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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Taking Inventory

Text: Lamentations 3:40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.

At a very young age I was first exposed to the drudgery of taking an annual inventory. First at the family grocery business and later in pharmacies. At these times I did not consider it a fun job. I would ask “why are we doing this” and the answer, as I recall, was because we have to - the Internal Revenue Service requires us to do an inventory once a year. Maybe they actually did not know or didn’t think an 11 year old would grasp complicated business strategy. As a young pharmacist I still didn’t understand what we were doing other than it was an I.R.S. requirement or some “bean counter” needed a number. I was more than willing to relinquish territory and let the bean counter get his own numbers but they never seemed to appreciate my offer. Taking inventory did not fit nicely into my concept of the things I wanted to do as a pharmacist. It was boring, it always involved overtime without pay, it was poorly organized and I was expected to accomplish my normal tasks in addition to doing the boring and tedious job of counting the inventory. The real joy killer was that nobody seemed to do anything of significance with the data obtained.

You can imagine my reaction when I learned as an new owner of a Medicine Shoppe franchise that I was expected to perform a complete inventory every three months. However, I noticed quickly that the franchise owners who worked the programs were successful and made money. Those who fought the programs, or only went through the motions, usually failed or at least failed to thrive. I elected to be a team player. Suddenly I had a vested interest in this process --- my attitude changed. I did the four inventories a year and my organizational skills allowed me to make innovations that resulted in the task being expedited. I started to understand why we were doing this. We had a limited amount of money to invest in inventory. More critical than money was space. In an 800 square foot pharmacy we could not allocate space for items that did not sell. There was no place available for nostalgia or “we always had this before“. The money and space could better be used. We could not afford to waste valuable space for items that produced no profit or prevented us from stocking items that could generate profit by a better utilization of resources. I transformed my thinking completely on this task. At first I only saw this as drudgery to accommodate a regulatory or accounting requirement. I saw no useful application. I came to see this function as a vital tool in my success in business. Once I saw the usefulness, I honed in on the process constantly making it more efficient and accurate. With the appearance of computers, I was able to keep perpetual inventories and totals that were only available four times a year with the expenditure of thirty plus man hours could be obtained in minutes every hour if necessary using virtually no man hours. A task that began as drudgery became a task that I had great enthusiasm for once I saw the benefits.

As a compulsive overeater, in recovery, and in a Twelve Step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, I am confronted with another type of inventory.

The “Big Book” of AA lists the steps. Number Four States “ (We) made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”. Ouch this could be painful! Can I just go back to the grocery store and count the tomato soup cans or something else a little less personal? Can’t I keep my old harmful inventory because we have become such good friends? I know these are character defects but we have spent a lot of time together. Please Lord sanctify me but not here -- let me keep one foot in my old ways of thinking. Just like at the Medicine Shoppe there is only so much room to store inventory. There is no useful purpose in keeping bad moral inventory. With anger and resentment on the shelf there is no room for honesty and truthfulness. With three shelves taken up by fear and anxiety there is no room for faith and sensitivity. The analogies go on and on. For the pharmacy to function efficiently and profitably the bad inventory must be removed and replaced with good inventory. As redeemed Christians we need ask God to get rid of our bad inventory to make room for good moral inventory. We need to identify the liabilities in our character and ask Him to remove these and ask for sanctifying replacements.

Dr Charles Knippel in his book “Freedom from Hurtful Behaviors” says “ We desperately need to recognize our powerlessness over facets of our lives that are not under the control of the Holy Spirit”. First, he talks about erroneousness and unrelenting thoughts or beliefs about ourselves and/or others such as: I never do anything right, I am not a good person, No one likes me, the future looks hopeless, I don’t mater to God. Second, he talks about painful and persistent feelings: unrealistic guilt, worthlessness, sadness, jealousy, resentment, hatred, fear, shame, disappointment, and loneliness. Third, he talks about recurrent injurious behaviors: overeating, abuse of alcohol, drugs, gambling, wrong sexual activity, overspending, workaholism, gossiping, slander, profanity.

We are not alone in our defects. St Paul wrote in Romans 7:18-19, 25a

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Dr. Knippel continues “ Denied hurtful mental and physical behaviors seriously jeopardize our spiritual well-being. They are enslaving behaviors that threaten our faith relationship with God. They may not immediately destroy our faith when they are born of weakness and perpetuated by our loss of control over them. Even weak faith is saving faith because faith is the Holy Spirits gift to us. But ultimately unrepented sins of weakness erode and destroy our faith. They thrust God out of our lives.”

This is an important inventory. We take it and we retake it many times. We ask God to get rid of the useless and harmful items in our inventory and to enhance the value of the good aspects that we discover. This task which initially intimidated me has became a task that I have great enthusiasm for now that I see the benefits. Something of great significance will be done with the information obtained.

I invite anyone with an addictive problem to come to our Christ centered 12 step program at Mt. Olive. When you come the first thing you will be given is a poker chip to remind us that we are gambling with our lives and our relationship with Jesus Christ.

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