Archive for the ‘in the world not of it’ Tag

When Christians are Of the World   Leave a comment

Ralph Seekins is a local car dealership owner and politician. Although I’ve met him, I can’t say I know him personally. He’s owned the largest car dealership (Ford) in Fairbanks since I was in college and he’s been in the State Legislature. I think he ran for Governor or Lt. Governor at least once. He’s a Republican.

He’s also a huge contributor to Young Life locally and is the most prominent member of the largest Assembly of God church in town.

He is a public Christian involved in business and politics.

There are significant numbers of Ford owners in Fairbanks who buy their cars in Wasilla or Anchorage (250 to 400 miles away) and drive there for service that you have to wonder why. I own a used Ford and take it to an independent garage. My experience with Seekins Ford is never good and that appears to be the view of just about everyone except the military, who are never here long enough to need any real maintenance. I can get a Ford part from NAPA for 1/3 of what it would cost me at the dealership and the longest I’ve ever had to wait is two days for shipping from Seattle. That same part will take two weeks if I order it through the deadership. I’m told by those folks who make that long drive to the Wasilla Ford dealership that you can get the same part there for quite a bit less than Seekins sells it for. In some ways,  the Fairbanks car market is a monopoly because of the distance to other locations, but not all local deaderships have this reputation.

Mr. Seekins is an important member of the Republican Party in Alaska, but it’s interesting how many of the folks who have had political dealings with him don’t trust him.

I think Young Life does good work and I have nothing against the Assemblies of God, but I know folks who will say both are phony organizations and they point to Seekins involvement as proof.

Here is just one example. A number of years ago, Seekins Ford donated a car for a Young Life raffle at the State Fair. Alaska has a weird state fair system where the fair is held in multiple locations a couple of weeks apart. Nobody won the raffle at the Tanana Valley State Fair. We were told the numbers were randomized and so the winner could be at the Palmer or Juneau fair. Nobody won there either. We discovered this because a reporter at the local newspaper decided to investigate. The promoter, apparently rattled by being found out, admitted  the winning number was not in the block of numbers available in Alaska. He pointed to Seekins’ manager making that decision. She obfuscated, talking about how this was standard procedure with raffles through out the country. Ralph said nothing — ever.

So all those people who bought tickets thinking they might get something for being generous to a good cause now have a sour taste in their mouths about Young Life and Ralph Seekins … and Christianity in general. Seekins talks a lot about family and he seems to have a good one. He speaks out against abortion and I believe he believes God cares if we abort our babies. He gives to the right causes. But he’s known as a crook in business and politics and even in charity and that speaks very badly for the God he says he serves.

I may be the only Christian someone else will ever know. I may be the only reflection of God someone will ever see. When I reflect the world instead of my Savior, I am misrepresenting God and potentially keeping people from coming to Him.

Think about that, Christians! What are you doing that misrepresents God?

Like it or not, you’re going to answer for it at the bema seat judgment, so you’d better ask yourself —

 

“Do I want to face God and explain myself over this?” 

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!

It’s Not About Christianity   Leave a comment

When Christians say “my behavior in [this realm of life] has nothing to do with my Christianity” I think it reveals a deep misunderstanding of what following Jesus is all about.

There is no such thing as “it’s just business” to a follower of Jesus Christ. To truly follow Jesus requires transformation in all aspects of life, not just in our Sunday behavior, our dress code, our language or our sex lives. Christians should stand out as being different.

My friend Jon owns a western-wear store. His store manager came to him and said “The local bar is hosting a tight jeans contest and is looking for sponsors. I think this would be a great advertising move.”

Jon agreed that it could attract a lot of attention to the store, but then he declined to participate. Here were his reasons:

  • He viewed himself as running the business on God’s behalf
  • Therefore, all the money the store made was God’s money
  • He could not reconcile spending God’s money to promote semi-drunken people parading around in tight jeans while other semi-drunken people admired their butts
  • Everybody in town knew who owned that western store and that they were Christians
  • Sponsorship of the contest would reflect poorly on Jon as Christian and on God as his Master

 

Chuck said the classic line “This has got nothing to do with your Christianity,” but Jon is the boss, so the store did not sponsor the contest.

It was a tough choice. Advertising in Fairbanks is expensive and Jon knew this was a relatively low-cost way of getting the word out about their brand of jeans and the store, but he also knew he couldn’t tell Jesus that he spent His money that way.

A few days after Jon said “no”, his competition called to crow that he’d taken the sponsorship and was going to enjoy all the publicity unless Jon joined in. Jon had to remind himself that he served a higher purpose than his bottom line, but it wasn’t an easy business choice.

Except …

Their jeans were represented at the contest because the participants could wear whatever jeans they wanted. Jon’s store got the free publicity of their jeans winning the contest without having to spend God’s money on a contest God would disapprove. The local newspaper even ran a story on how the contest was won by a store that hadn’t participated in the contest and even quoted Jon’s reasons. People asked Jon why he’d not participated and that gave him the opportunity to share the gospel and most particularly how God can bless a business that makes tough choices for Him rather than just doing things the way the world says business is done.

There are no areas of a Christian’s life where Jesus does not exist. So why do we try to keep Him out of those where we are tempted not to be Christlike.

Context for Christian Civil Disobedience   Leave a comment

The world says Christians have no reason to argue with the laws of our countries.we should just go along to get along. Let the laws that affect our faith stand.

If people think abortion is murder, we should just not have one and the problem is solved. So logical!

Except when the law requires Christians to participate.

Of course when the church holds a city-wide “free” party, folks are going to show up. A friend came running up to me to announce with excitement that she is pregnant again. Sarai is the American name she goes by. She’s Chinese. Her first child was born in China. When she became pregnant again, she was forced to have an abortion. As Christians this was a violation of their faith, but it was what their society demanded. It didn’t diminish the blood on their hands. Her husband felt so badly about it that he eventually committed suicide. Sarai got a chance to attend school at UAF and here we don’t currently force people to kill their babies. She can have as many as she wants and she and her second husband, whose first wife died after a forced abortion in China lift each of their children up to Jesus as an act of defiance to their former slave masters. Their words, not mine. They both became American citizens last year.

Here in the United States, we don’t force people to have abortion (yet), but what if we did? What if our government became as serious about population control as some of the environmentalists want it to be and started ordering abortions for every pregnancy after the first?

Should Christians refuse then? Or not? I mean, our government uses our tax dollars to pay for this murder now and we haven’t stopped paying our taxes. Doesn’t that sound like a sin of omission?

I’m as guilty as everyone else. I work hard for my pretty simple lifestyle, but I’m in no hurry to trade it for a 8×10 cell. I can rationalize it that the women who kill their babies and the doctors and nurses who help them do it are guilty of personal sins and will face God someday and be fully responsible for their own behavior. As a Christian I am already forgiven for my sins, so why worry about what God will say about my paying for the abortions of others, especially since I don’t have a choice.

Did the early Christians have a choice to worship Caesar? Yes, they did, but it came with high consequences. What will God say at the bema seat about my quietly paying my taxes to fund abortion, wars and prisons that provide jobs for prison guards to keep people in jail for victimless crimes? I don’t think He will be impressed by my justification that I didn’t want to go to jail.

Christianity is not about earning forgiveness, but it is about showing our gratitude for what He has done for us. Faith without evidence is dead. When are we to evidence faith? When it is convenient or when it might cost us something?

Are we to show our faith by going to church on Sunday, or are we to show our faith through our lives and the choices we make when our faith conflicts with our society?

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