Archive for A Study in Failure

A Study in Failure, Part 6

In response to God’s call, we had published a line of pocketsize books for evangelism and spiritual growth. Sales never grew strong enough to sustain the company, and we had to quit selling the books after ten years. But God miraculously fulfilled His calling and purpose through us, getting many thousands of books into the hands of soldiers, inmates, and hungry readers in poorer countries around the world. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”; “A Study in Failure, Part 2”; “A Study in Failure, Part 3”; “A Study in Failure, Part 4”; “A Study in Failure, Part 5”.)

The company that God had called us to start, Living the Natural Way, didn’t die when we stopped selling physical product. We simply switched our focus to online resources, especially hymns. Back when I was still in my 20’s, God had called me to write hymns. Throughout all the seasons of my life, He had kept His thumb in my back regarding that call. Now, with the pocketsize books having run their course, He had freed me to focus on my first love: hymns.

Today, the website that started as LNWbooks.com is now LNWhymns.com. It currently offers 420 of my hymns, with 355 of them recorded, plus a variety of companion resources. Everything on the site is free. We have returning visitors from all fifty states and 135 countries.

In spite of all the red ink generated by the pocketsize books, God was faithful to supply all our needs. We’ve never missed paying a bill. We’ve never even been late, as best I remember.

During those years, we had refinanced our house in order to support the publishing ministry. But a few years ago God directed us to a beautiful, spacious house here in Olathe, Kansas, just five minutes from a Christian college. I’m sitting here in a comfortable, roomy study where I’m blessed to sit and write all day, every day. Our publishing ministry still isn’t self-supporting, but it’s moving that way, and I’m confident it will get there. In the meantime, God is generously meeting our needs through my wife, who is a successful real estate agent.

Have I answered my earlier question—did I fail? If my goal was profit, I certainly did. If it weren’t for my weaknesses, perhaps our publishing ministry would have been financially viable. But I’m encouraged by this verse:

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

Like Paul, I had prayed that God would take away my weakness and make me “successful” as a publisher. But His response was, and is:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

Remember, God spoke our entire physical reality out of nothing. He never runs low on resources. What He wants, what He is constantly seeking, is people who will love Him, trust Him, and obey Him, people who will do what He says one day at a time and leave everything else to Him. Weak people. Ordinary people. Human people. Obedient people.

Lord, I’m available! Count me in!

A Study in Failure, Part 5

I had felt a definite call from God to start a specialized publishing ministry to draw people to Christ. But after ten years of mounting red ink, we had to throw in the towel. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”; “A Study in Failure, Part 2”; “A Study in Failure, Part 3”; “A Study in Failure, Part 4”.)

Had I failed? Had I not truly heard God’s call? Or had I simply not carried it out well? The result had been limited sales, a ministry with a short life, and a huge financial loss.

But there’s more to the story than I’ve told you. Consider these additional factors:

1. While LNWbooks was operating, we had stumbled across a market we had never intended: the U.S. military. We had learned that military chaplains absolutely loved our books because they were perfect for soldiers: small enough to easily slip into their pockets, yet substantial enough to offer thought-provoking substance. While John Ashcroft was a senator from Missouri (before he became Attorney General under George W. Bush), we had written to him asking for the addresses of U.S. military bases. We were residents of Missouri at the time, so he was our senator. His office diligently worked with the Pentagon to get us such a list. The result was that during our few years of operation, we had shipped thousands of books to military bases all around the globe. We got emails from chaplains telling us how popular the books were and how much they meant to the soldiers.

2. At the very end of our company’s life, we had offered our remaining books to selected ministries for shipping costs alone. We got one big response: Prison Fellowship, the charity founded by Chuck Coleson. They took over 15,000 of our books to put into the hands of inmates and their families.

3. When all other outlets had been exhausted, we learned about a charity called Love Packages. They take donations of religious books and ship them all around the world to people hungry for such literature. We were donating over 100,000 books, so they sent a truck from Butler, Illinois, to Kansas City, Missouri, to pick up the books. A bit later we got an email from the head of the organization, which read:

Just a note to let you know that we have been shipping your books out every week. Tanzania, India, Philippines, Ghana, and South Africa have gotten some so far. 

God had called us to provide Christian literature to people who wouldn’t walk into a Christian bookstore and buy and read a book. Due to no brilliance of our own, He gotten them to many ministries, but especially into the hands of soldiers, prisoners, and hungry readers in numerous economically-disadvantaged countries. In fact, God had fulfilled His purpose through us in a greater way through our company’s death than He had through its life. Not until we had completely turned loose of all income from the books did He fully accomplish all that He had intended.

Isn’t God good…and utterly amazing?

The story is not quite over. The final installment is coming next time.

 continued on Friday

A Study in Failure, Part 4

In response to God’s call, we had started a small company to publish pocketsize books to draw people to Christ. In spite of excellent product, we were failing to attract a broad enough market to support the company. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”; “A Study in Failure, Part 2”; “A Study in Failure, Part 3”.)

Our financial concerns about our struggling young company grew to a crushing certainty: it would not be profitable. Indeed, it would not be sustainable at all. From the beginning, my wife and I had been supporting it from our personal incomes, but we simply couldn’t continue.

By early 2008, the company was hundreds of thousands of dollars behind and bleeding more red ink every month. The time had come. We set 8/31/2008 as the date we would quit selling any physical product, then spent most of 2008 selling off as much stock as possible at a huge discount. After that, for two months we tried donating product to selected ministries if they would simply pay shipping cost. At the end of October, it was all over but the nagging questions.

Fortunately, the company had no debt. It had never taken out any loans. Gloria and I had always taken a “pay as you go approach”. But there was no hope of recouping the mountain of money we had poured in. And the book publishing ministry to which God had called us was no more. We had to give up.

Had I mistaken God’s call to this publishing ministry? Had I let my personal desires cloud my judgment?

Or had I simply been a personal failure?

continued on Wednesday

A Study in Failure, Part 3

In response to God’s call, we were starting a small, specialized publishing company. Our focus was getting Christian materials into the hands of people who wouldn’t go to a Christian bookstore and buy and read a book. God had led us through the planning stages. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”, and “A Study in Failure, Part 2”.)

In the fall of 1998, we released our first two pocketsize books, Knowing God and Simple Prayers. The following February we released For Servants of God and The Satisfied Life, then another two in August, The Most Beautiful Way to Live and Step by Step. In 2000 through 2002, we published six more: Seeing God in the Darkness; Christmas Is Jesus; Your Will Be Done; Daily Love; Make Music to the Lord; and Help Me Pray. These twelve included evangelistic books and devotional books, both seasonal and non-seasonal, touching a variety of topics and uses.

In spring, 2000, we published the first issue of a free quarterly newsletter, Knowing Christ. Then in late 2001 we launched our website, LNWbooks.com, containing only the 12 pocketsize books. A fellow employee named Ross Kimbrough built that first edition of the website. It was soon taken over by my daughter, Kindra Bible, then a young computer programmer.

My wife, Gloria, my partner in the business, helped as much as her time allowed, primarily taking care of our mailing list.

People seemed to love the product. It was meaningful, fresh, attractive, and very practical. The website gradually built up good traffic.

But the company was only a few years old when I began to realize that I couldn’t make it profitable. Running my own business, being responsible for most of it by myself, had brought me face-to-face with my own weaknesses and limitations. It was only me, and even with my years of experience, there were important publishing functions I couldn’t do well. I’m weak in marketing, and in sales I am the world’s worst! That’s right: THE worst. In high school I couldn’t even sell band candy, and who doesn’t love a chocolate bar?

The product was beautiful and had great content, but I lacked the ability to get the circulation up to profitable levels. Hiring someone was out of the question.

After 12 books, we quit releasing new titles. We let the program continue for several years after that, and we did our best. But we knew that a difficult decision was coming. Without God’s miraculous intervention, the company could not survive.

continued on Friday

A Study in Failure, Part 2

God had called me to start my own specialized publishing company, growing out of our involvement in evangelism at our local church. We were to focus on reaching people who wouldn’t walk into a Christian bookstore and buy and read a book. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1″.)

How do you get Christian materials into the hands of people who aren’t looking for them? One way is to provide such materials to Christ’s followers and partner with them in reaching the people they know. That’s the approach I felt led to take.

I wanted to provide more than a tract. If I were a non-believer, I wouldn’t be interested in catchy come-ons or scare tactics. Tracts are doubtless very effective with some, but I felt they wouldn’t work with me. I wanted to provide something more thought-provoking, something interesting and reasonable that would engage the mind.

So after much thought and prayer, Gloria and I came up with an idea for pocket-size books. Their trim size would be 3” X 4.5”, small enough to fit in a man’s shirt-pocket or a lady’s purse. Each book would be 64 pages—long enough to provide information and reasoning, but short enough to be easily and quickly read. We worked with an artist friend of mine, Paul Franitza, who gave them very attractive, full-color covers.

We priced them for quantity sale. We offered them in lots of 12, 40, and 100, with the price dropping to $1.00 per book for the 100-packs. Our plan was to market them to pastors, chaplains, and missionaries, as well as to interested individuals.

As I explained earlier, I am not an entrepreneur by nature. So having firmed up our idea, I approached my employer, a Christian publisher. I thought perhaps they might be interested in working with me on these books. I got a meeting with the president of the company, explained what I had in mind, and gave him everything in writing. Weeks of waiting turned into six months, and still no response whatsoever, despite reminders. Finally, I saw the handwriting on the wall and wrote him again, this time pulling the proposal off the table. In the end, however, they did agree to handle order fulfillment for us, and at a reasonable cost. They proved to be a real God-send in that area.

We needed a company name, and I was extremely conscious about finding one that would speak to non-believers picking up the books. I was determined to avoid anything like “Bible Thumpers International”. So we decided to use the name of the second series of mailers we had written for our local church evangelism program. “Living the Natural Way” thus became the name of the company. In daily usage, it was often shorted to “LNW”, which is the reason the book line eventually took the name “LNWbooks” and later, our hymns were published under “LNWhymns.com”.

To clarify the overall intent of our materials, we started using this phrase beneath the company name: “Innovative Resources for Drawing People to Christ”.

God had faithfully led us through the planning stages—concept, product, incorporation, order fulfillment, phone lines, pricing, and more. But the battle was just beginning.

continued on Wednesday

A Study in Failure, Part 1

A few months ago I told the story of how God called my wife and me to involvement in our local church evangelism program. (See What Could You Do If Nothing Else Mattered? [scroll down] and What Could You Do if Nothing Else Mattered? cont.) I wrote monthly mailers as part of Neighbor to Neighbor, an effort to draw our church’s neighborhood to Christ.

As that program wound down, the Lord began speaking to me about continuing to draw people to Him. My training, gifts, and God-given interests are in writing and publishing. Yes, I want to stay available to God in all areas, and He does sometimes lead me into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. I thank Him for that. Life in God is an adventure, and I don’t want to fearfully draw borders around where I’ll follow Him. But I do find that the bulk of the work He leads me to do is in areas where He has called and prepared me. For me, that means writing and publishing.

So at this point, He had me thinking about how I could write and publish materials to draw people to Him. I thank God for Christian publishers and all the suppliers, distributors, and stores who work with them. I’ve spent my life in this field. But I also know that Christian bookstores effectively reach only a tiny part of the population. Over time, it became clear that God was calling me to provide materials for people who wouldn’t walk into a Christian bookstore and buy and read a book. He was calling me to start my own specialized publishing venture.

I am not an entrepreneur by nature! Some people are energized by the process of starting and building their own companies. Not me! Give me a steady job and a predictable routine.

What’s more, I know that publishing is a hectic business. Wow, do I know that! I’ve spent my life in a publishing office. You’re constantly loaded with more work than you can possibly handle. And by the time you have one success, you’re already late for the next one. Publishing programs are voraciously hungry and must be fed more often than a newborn. The pressure is relentless.

Add to that the demands of starting a new business, and I just didn’t see how I could possibly do it. What’s more, I had gone through a serious burnout less than ten years before. If you’ve ever had that experience, you know that once is enough. I simply couldn’t make myself face all that stress and overload again. I couldn’t! It’s like lying down in a blazing fire. You just can’t force yourself to do it.

I told the Lord that He had the wrong person. I told Him that I wanted to obey Him, but I just didn’t see how I could possibly start my own publishing company.

Then came one of those times of communication from the Lord that were crystal clear. Usually He guides me by strong impressions on my heart and mind. I’ve never heard His voice audibly, but on a few occasions He’s clearly spoken specific words in my heart.

This is what He said: “Do what I tell you to do one day at a time, and leave everything else to Me.” I’ve tried to live by that wisdom ever since.

 continued on Friday

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