Following the crowds

Yesterday Diane and I went to Walmart to pick up something she ordered and had delivered there.  She paid for it online so we did not need to wait at the checkout.  Since we were there we decided to buy a package of Farm Rich mozzarella sticks, which we did have to pay for at the front registers.  We got to the front of the store and the scene was chaos.  They have removed 3/4 of their checkout lines in order to put in self checkouts.  But none of the self checkouts are installed yet.  And the self checkouts they did have are gone.  They had an employee there who was as frazzled as a “one legged man at a butt kicking contest.”  I told her we were just going to leave the cheese sticks with her and get out of there.  She told us if we were willing to walk out to the garden center that there were 4 registers open there with no waiting.  Diane took the cheese sticks to the garden center and I went to the car with the item we picked up.

Looking back on the scene, there is a modern day parable here.  While acknowledging that salvation is so much more than stepping out of the line to hell and getting in the line to heaven, the Bible does tell us that there are two lines, or paths (ways, roads, etc).

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” ~ Matthew 7:13-14

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” ~ Proverbs 14:12

Are we willing to walk to the garden center to be spared of the line jumping, cart nudging, and incivility of the checkouts?  You bet ya.  That seems like a no-brainer.

Are you willing to take the narrow way that leads to life?  That also seems like a no-brainer.

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Broadcasting to the world

Some time in the last year Diane was on Facebook and she noticed a friend was broadcasting live. She clicked on it and our friend did not know they were broadcasting live. You could see the phone set on the the coffee table and you could hear our friend talking with their spouse. Diane immediately called this friend from my phone and they answered their phone and when they said, “hello?” we heard it on Facebook as well. When Diane told them that they were broadcasting live on Facebook we could see them pick up their phone and then the broadcast ended. There was nothing incriminating in that live look into their home. But it is scary to think of what would happen if everything we have ever said or done was public record. It serves as a reminder that one day, everything you have ever done will be an open book before the God who created you. And we are all in the same boat. While most of us have never done anything too bad, none of us are perfect. And perfection is what is required to enter heaven and the presence of God. Yet in a way and for a reason that will we never be able to fully comprehend, if we will receive the gift of salvation offered to everyone through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, “God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven” (O Little Town of Bethlehem). What makes you acceptable to God is not your own record. It is Jesus’ record imparted to those who believe and receive. Have you received Him? Will you receive Him?

God, I admit that I have fallen short of perfection. I ask you to forgive me of my sin through the sacrifice and grace of Jesus. Amen.

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Joy when we need it most

Someone recently told me they decided against having a Christmas party they had been thinking about having.  They said because of some health problems in the family, nobody felt like they had the “Christmas Spirit”.  People get discouraged or depressed and want to stay home.  I get it.  Pastors get it.  Research and experience tell me that January does not get any better.  I have read research that makes the argument that January is the most depressing month of the year.  After the conversation it occurred to me that when you do not feel the “Christmas Spirit”, when you do not feel joy, that is precisely the time you need to have a party!

Luke 2:20 says that after the shepherds went to see Mary, Joseph, and the the baby Jesus, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”  They had just witnessed the birth of the Savior of the world, yet their lives would appear to be unchanged.  It would have been so easy to go back to watching the sheep and think about what all they were missing out on alone with the sheep in the fields.  But they now had something they did not have before.  They had hope.  Hope did not change their current circumstances, but hope gave them joy.  Hope gave them….. well, it gave them hope.  They now had hope that one day their lives would be different.  And that gave them joy in that moment that their lives seemed unchanged.  And ironically, that hope and joy did indeed change their lives because it allowed them to worship God (…glorifying and praising God).  They were no longer focused on their current circumstances, but were focused on God.

My prayer for you is that as the sun is scarce, and the dark, dreary days drag on through January and February, that the hope that is found in the promises of God will be sufficient and be your focus.  I pray that you focus on worshipping Him the rest of this winter.  If you do, you will receive joy when you need it most.

“Feelings are great liars. If Christians only worshipped when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship that went on… we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act which develops feelings for God.” ~ Eugene Peterson

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Fighting unknown battles

How do you like the award winning picture I drew of a turkey?  I was competing against about a dozen others and mine was deemed the best.  I know exactly what you are thinking.  You are not impressed.  You are wondering who in the world what competition I was in that this was deemed the best drawing of a turkey.  You might even be wondering if there was drinking involved.

It is true that I did win the competition for the best drawing of a turkey.  What you do not know is that we were all instructed to hold a paper plate on top of our heads and draw a turkey on that plate.  Now that you know that, you must think the drawing is a little more impressive.  If you are not impressed, you should try it.

What I always try to remember when I am dealing with people is that I rarely know what they have gone through.  I have a “suck it up and get over it” mentality.  I got little to no sympathy as a child.  From the time I was 12 years old I bought my own shampoo and deodorant with money from my own job, at which I started out at 50 cents an hour.  I suppose that is why I lean toward being a little less sympathetic than some pastors.  It is not that I am unsympathetic, but the truth is I sometimes think to myself that people are whiners, even though I never say that out loud.  But being aware I can be that way and knowing why helps me to overcome it (at least out loud).

I am aware that everyone is fighting battles that I know nothing about.  And in the midst of the times I find myself unsympathetic, remembering others’ unknown battles helps me to be a little more understanding.  And you never know how a little understanding may change another’s day or even their life.

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Hanging in there

The other day I was walking across our yard and among the dead leaves and sticks that serve as relics of past life (and hope of future life) poking through the leaves, I saw one little lone plant standing proudly with all the leaves still on.  After six weeks of overnight frosts and over a half a foot of snow, all the other plants have been overcome — given up.  But this one little plant is hanging in there.

Nobody will throw it a parade.  It was just by chance that I even noticed.  But I love that it is still standing.  When I saw it, in a strange way it gave me courage.  I could easily blog today about the hope of the dormant lilac sticks poking through the winter ground, but I thought perhaps this one little plant might also give you the courage to hang in there when the “leaves are dropping” all around you.

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
~
Psalm 121:1-2

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Late to the party

Last night I was up a couple of times in the middle of the night.  One time I looked out the front window and there was a raccoon in the front yard looking for food.  We experience a WV wildlife zoo in our front yard at night by throwing food out, as we typically can see foxes, skunk, opossum, deer, and raccoons out our front window.  (In full disclosure, I am much more excited about it than Diane is).  The skunk and foxes are typically the earliest to arrive.  The raccoon is usually the last to arrive and last night it showed up after all the food had been eaten.  It was searching, but it was too late.  The raccoon was late to the party.

I am reminded that the Bible tells us that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  Everyone will one day confess Jesus as Lord.  Some will be saved and some will not.  Some will be “late to the party”, so to speak.  While we live on this earth, we have a choice to make about Jesus.  Will we believe that He died on the cross for our sins and will we call Him Lord and follow Him, thereby receiving forgiveness?  My knee has already bowed and my tongue has already confessed, so I need not fear the grave.  Death has no power over me.  I pray that you have confessed Him as Lord, too.

Others, who do not believe, who have not bowed, who have not confessed, will certainly one day do so.  The only question for them is, “Will you do do before it is too late?”  This is the one party you do not want to be late to.  Like the raccoon, there will be nothing there for you if you are too late.

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Take care of yourself

Yesterday someone left 16 boxes of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios outside the door to the food pantry at Wesley Chapel UMC.  Someone from the food pantry put them on the table in the food pantry.  I noticed a receipt in the bag.  Then I searched other bags and found receipts.  They paid $1.52 for 4 boxes of cereal.  Martin’s ad this week has $6 off when you buy 4 boxes, limit one per transaction, so they rang them up in 4’s. Most people would not be that interested in checking out the receipts, but I love a bargain and was curious when I saw the receipt.  I may make my way to Martin’s today or tomorrow to get some myself.  I love it that a bargain shopper is thinking about the food pantry.  It is one thing to donate money to the food pantry.  There is something above and beyond to be out looking for deals on behalf of the food pantry.

Diane always reminds people to look for great deals on things for the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox ministry by buying after holiday or out of season merchandise when things can often be had for pennies on the dollar.  Diane is always, always, always on the lookout for deals for the shoebox ministry.  It is always on her mind.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… ~ Philippians 2:4-5

Being a follower of Jesus requires us to think not only of ourselves, but to think of others.  Now as someone whose “job” is to think of others, I have come to understand that I can not be everything to everyone who needs attention or help.  So when I say not only think of ourselves, but think of others, I mean it as a reminder that you and I must practice self care.  The Scripture does not say only focus on others.  It is “think of others in addition to thinking of yourself. It is a strange message I have for you today and when I began this post I did not see it coming.  Take care of yourself.

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