Who Do You Obey?   Leave a comment

Mike owns a major car dealership in the Southeastern states. He’s a wealthy man. He’s also a devout Christian who considered going into ministry rather than inheriting his father’s dealership. He uses his wealth to fund charity. He is a Barnabas.

Mike was asked to join an alliance of other car dealers in a three-state region to help “maximize profits and assure customer service.” He thought that was a good idea, so he agreed to join. Over the next six months, he gradually became aware that this alliance was fixing prices for repair parts. If you thought your dealership was charging you too much for a part and you called around, you’d find that all of them were charging the same amount. Mike then checked the wholesale price and discovered that you could get these parts for a lot less than you might think. You just had to know where to call and be a dealer so you could order those parts. Mike checked with his parts people and realized that they were now overcharging customers. It wasn’t just a small amount of profit either.

Mike spoke to some of the other dealers and they all insisted they were struggling to stay in business and needed this “healthier” business environment or they would go under. The problem with this was that Mike had been to several of their homes and businesses and knew they weren’t hurting.

He knew what the consequences would be if he did what he was going to do, but he also knew that God was pulling at his conscience, telling him this was a dishonest business practice. On the other hand, he had agreed to join the alliance and to abide by the terms of membership. He had to decide if he was going to obey God or obey man.

The alliance gathered for a quarterly meeting and Mike announced he was withdrawing from the alliance and changing his parts prices. He was informed that if he did this, he would be sued by the alliance, that he would have to order parts from outside the district and that they would do everything in their power to destroy his dealership. He took a deep breath and said “Okay. Do what you think is best. But … you three over there who are church deacons, what you are doing is dishonest and God has told me to tell you that what you do against me will come back against you.”

He then walked out of the meeting and did what he felt God was leading him to do.

The next year was ROUGH! Lawsuits, supply issues, vandalism on the car lot. For the first time since Mike took over the dealership, the company lost money and sales were drastically down. In order to stay in business, he got innovative and started to sell other brands of cars in addition to the dealership brand he’d dealt in for years. The dealership continued to shrink, but the other brands carried him through. Meanwhile, the alliance members seemed to be doing very well. Mike began to doubt his decision, but for Bible verses that kept showing up suggesting he was right to obey God. Several years went by with very flat business. Mike lost the lawsuits; although the judge said he had a point about the price fixing, he had violated his contract with the alliance. Mike sold a bunch of investments to carry the company through the lean times and to pay the lawsuits. He told my pastor — a lifelong friend — that he figured he could hold off bankruptcy to get his last kid through college.

And then the economic crisis hit. Everybody went into panic and Mike was worried. People don’t buy cars in recessionary times. Still, he had a comfortable savings balance (because he’d already been planning for lean times) and what investments he still had hadn’t been hit all that hard. In the midst of a deep recession, his business started to pick up while the members of the alliance — starting with those three deacons — one by one closed their doors. People were looking for lower prices and Mike’s prices were cost plus a reasonable profit while theirs were not reasonable. Word of mouth spread and soon, while still in the midst of a recession, the company’s sales figures were what they had been before the dark times. Today, Mike owns not just one dealership, but five because as his business restored, he was able to buy those failing deaderships at fire sale prices. In fact, two of those owners came and asked him to buy them out and apologized for their part in the alliance. They are now managers of their former companies and Mike is letting them buy those companies back through an employee buy-in program. And getting into those other brands of autos now appears to be an inspired idea because Government Motors discontinued a lot of very popular lines that significantly harmed his competitors’ market share. Several members of the alliance, including the three deacons, were eventually charged with fraud and price fixing and some of them did jail time.

Like Shadrach, Mechach and Abendigo, Mike was asked to stand up for the Lord even though it meant a walk through fire. And God has blessed him for his obedience, but this story isn’t really about him. It’s about the three deacons and the two men who apologized. The deacons knew they were doing wrong and God had a word with them through Mike. They still chose not to hear it. Mike visited with two of them after they were found guilty, before they went to jail, and they were still unrepentant. “It was business. It had nothing to do with my faith.” Though Mike was never called to testify, they are certain he turned them in. The two men who apologized were also Christians. They knew they were doing wrong too. When life disciplined them, they repented. Mike says they have shown themselves to be better men since. “Everybody else was doing it,” they said. “I was afraid to rock the boat.” They both testified against the alliance, but were themselves never charged with fraud because the prosecutor considered them not to have been principles in the scheme. They were just along for the ride, which Mike believes is accurate. There were a lot of members of the alliance who were along for the ride, as Mike was for those first six months.

It’s easy to say “This is how the world does it. I’m just going along to get along”, but Christians are called to a higher purpose and God knows what we do not. Mike was preparing for a slow decline into bankruptcy for standing on his principles. He is now richer than he ever was because he was in a perfect condition to take advantage of a financial crisis to grow his business. There are people who think he had to have been dishonest to have grown during a recession, but in surveys of what his customers like about his business, the number one selected item is “honesty.”

“In the world not of it” means that when the world wants to go a certain way and we know that it is is wrong, we don’t follow the world, even if we know the world will give us consequences for that decision.

It’s okay to be different, Christians. That’s what we’re here for!

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