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Did Anyone Follow That?

19 Jun

Read: Galatians 5:1-26

 

“Test everything.  Hold on to the good.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

 

 Incoherent customers are not an uncommon occurrence in retail.  More than once, I have found myself at the end of a conversation which, due to some misunderstanding at the beginning, has left me wondering what exactly just took place.

For example: on one particular afternoon, I was approached by a customer with a question about wrapping a tree that she had just purchased.  I responded by asking where she was going to place it.  (The assumption on my part being that she meant to wrap the trunk in order to protect it from the elements.)  “It’s going in my pickup bed,” she responded rather hotly, her irritation at my failure to comprehend her meaning quite evident.

I quickly realized that her concern was for the tree’s safety in transport and assured her that the gentleman who would load her tree for her would take a moment to look over the situation and provide appropriate advice.  I quickly radioed for an employee to retrieve the tree from the lot, but as I did so, the customer glanced out the window and, with a tone of exasperation announced, “Never mind, it’s already loaded. But that wasn’t the man helping me!”  She then proceeded to storm out of the store leaving me in a bit of a quandary as to what had just happened.

On another occasion, I encountered a gentleman seeking to purchase a bag of Diazinon (an incredibly effective insecticide).  It was with regret that I informed him that we had just sold our last bag earlier that morning.

“When I called a week ago, you said that you had it,” he replied, sounding a bit disgruntled.

“We did, a week ago, but we don’t anymore,” I apologized.

“You shouldn’t say you have things when you don’t.”

It was clear that my message was not getting across, but not wanting to lose a customer I replied, “We might be getting some more in this next week, I can check for you.”

“You can’t because it’s illegal.”

“No, Sir… not yet at least.”  (Everyone locally was aware of the pending EPA ban on the product – part of the reason we were selling through so much of it so quickly.)

“Yes it is or you wouldn’t be telling everyone that you have it!”  And with that, he turned around and left, leaving me, once again, wondering what exactly had just taken place.

Since good things always come in threes (at least so they say), I can’t resist sharing just one more tale of incoherence: this one aided by a telephone.

“I need to know how much a truckload of bark will cost,” my customer explained.  (So far, so good.  This is a common question and fairly easy to answer.)

“How much bark do you need?” I enquired, reaching for a calculator.

“I don’t know.  How much fits in a pickup?”

“It depends upon the size of the pickup,” I replied, fully expecting the customer to respond with something reasonably precise like, “It’s a half-ton, Chevy, short-bed.”

No such luck.  “It’s a small one,” she explained.

“Perhaps you can tell me how much ground are you trying to cover,” I suggested.

“I don’t know how much ground I’m trying to cover.  I just need to know how much bark I will need.”

“It depends on what size space you’re covering and how thickly you want to lay the bark down,” I explained, reasonably certain that this conversation was going nowhere fast.

“About two inches,” she replied.

The truth is that a little incoherence at the beginning of a conversation can lead to a lot of incoherence by the end.  Like shooting an arrow or throwing a ball, what seems to be an insignificant ambiguity in the aiming process can result in an end that is far removed from the intended course.

That the same sort of misdirection can occur when it comes to our Christian walk should come as no surprise.  What starts as a minor misunderstanding of Scripture can lead to a life which misses the mark – leaving others to wonder why there is such inconsistency between what we say we believe (God’s Word) and the way we live.  Perhaps this is why the apostles took such care to emphasize the importance of our studying (and following) God’s Word for ourselves.  Only when we do, can we be assured that our lives will be coherent enough for their message – that God loves mankind – to be clearly understood.

Challenge:  Take some time to carefully consider what you believe.  Does the way you live naturally follow?  Ask God to reveal how you can live a more consistent life!

Can You Hear Me Now

5 Jun

 Read: Galatians 6:1-5

 

“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.  For even Christ pleased not himself: but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”

Romans 15:1-3

 

During the height of the season, a good nursery resembles a forest.  Packed from one end to the other with needles and foliage, it’s a good place to find some shade as well as a new tree for the front yard.  Unfortunately, this woodland effect can occasionally lead to difficulties.

We had spent the afternoon tagging, watering, and shifting a fresh shipment of trees and shrubs.  The task had required frequent walks through the masses of plant material during one of which, our assistant manager had managed to lose her radio.  In order to find it, three of us spread out around the perimeter of the receiving area where we listened for her to call my name from another staff member’s walkie-talkie.  Each time she called for me, we’d move closer to the sound emanating from the missing device.

It wasn’t long before we discovered that our manager hadn’t told anyone else that we had lost a radio or what we planned to do in order to find it.

After hearing my name called an inordinate number of times, one of the stock boys answered for me – doing a poor imitation of my voice in the process.  His reply was followed by an irritated announcement from one of the cashiers that the radio our manager was calling from was working just fine and could be heard quite clearly by everyone on shift.

We all smiled at each other as the final reply helped us zero in on the missing radio, which had caught on a branch at the bottom of a potted potentilla.

Just as our staff grew frustrated with the continual calls from the nursery, many times Christians grow tired of listening to (or watching) each other’s oft repeated struggles with sin.  We recognize the problem, but without any background information, are in a poor position to judge whether our brothers and sisters are winning the victory or failing miserably.  The result is that the success of our attempts to help resolve the problem are often hit and miss, sometimes prolonging and exacerbating the struggle rather than helping to relieve the burden.

 Only when we take time to understand the struggles of others will we be assured of providing the type of loving support to which the Bible calls us.  Instead of growing irritated with the repeated frustrations of our brothers, we ought to bear with them, supporting them through prayer and a listening ear!

Challenge:  This week, take the time to intentionally listen to others as they share their struggles and frustrations with you.  You may be surprised at how much difference can be made when you’re willing to lend a sympathetic ear!

Evergreens

29 May

Read: 1 Peter 4:12-19

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season…”

Psalm 1:1-3a NASB

Watering plants is innately relaxing.  Now imagine that you’re blessed enough to have the job I found myself with: four hours a day watering all the plants for a local nursery.

Of course, not every plant needed to be watered every day.  Some of them (particularly the trees) could go a couple of days without any trouble.  There were, however, a few which would readily have taken water twice a day.  These were the evergreens.

If you’ve ever tried to raise an evergreen, you know that it is an exceptionally needy plant.  If they don’t get enough nutrients, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.  If they don’t get enough sunlight, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.  If they don’t get enough water, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.

If, however, you provide your evergreen with all of these ingredients, it will stay a vibrant green or blue even through the hardest winter freeze, the strongest winds, or the deepest floods.

What’s my point?  As Christians, we often encounter difficulties and find ourselves asking why we aren’t weathering them any better than our unsaved friends.  We know that in Christ we are “ever green”, but we just aren’t capable of demonstrating that level of resilience… and wonder what went wrong. 

The truth is that, much like evergreens, if we get the proper care and nourishment through Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship with other believers, we show forth God’s glory even in the toughest circumstances.  But if we don’t… watch out!  If you want to withstand the storm, you have to take time to prepare for it.

Challenge:  Are you spending enough time with God?  Your willingness to do so now can make a big difference in your ability to face life’s challenges in the future.  Take the time, this week, to carefully examine your spiritual practices and make adjustments where necessary!

The Rummage Sale

22 May

Read: Matthew 25:14-30

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17 NASB

A quick look around the nursery was sufficient to see that we had too much plant material on hand.  The season was nearing an end and, without enough room to plant the remaining trees and shrubs on our own lot or to successfully over winter them in the greenhouse, we had no choice but to begin marking down the product.

We placed each discounted plant in an area of the nursery marked with red tape, their new prices or the percentage discount prominently displayed on each one.  Many of the plants saw discounts far beyond half off (you’ve heard that saying: “If it ain’t half off, it ain’t on sale”).  It was not ideal, but we felt that we had little choice… and our customers did enjoy the newfound treasures!

I saw plenty of these healthy, but dilapidated-looking pieces of greenery come through the check stands with their $40 price tags crossed out and $5 scrawled in its place.  Anyone who knew what the nursery had originally paid for these plants would have been impressed by such discounts… but even this was insufficient to please a few rare customers.

I was working this “rummage sale” area one afternoon when a lady approached me.  “I want to speak to a manager about getting a discount on these.  They look a bit ragged.”

I quickly explained that it was for this very reason that they had already been marked down, but to no avail.  After failing to reach the manager about the possibility of an even deeper discount, I suggested that we speak with the assistant manager.

“I already talked to her,” my customer replied.  “She said no, so I want to talk with the manager.”

Sadly, when this could not be arranged, she left the store… without the plant in question.  It was an amazing price, but apparently, not amazing enough.

Unfortunately, oft times we as Christians behave in a similar manner.  Seeing the good gifts that God has already given us, the great deal offered at His expense, we seek even more.  While there is nothing wrong with doing so, we must keep in mind that what God has already offered is of phenomenal quality… even when it doesn’t come in the type of packages we expect!

To reject His gifts on the grounds that they aren’t exactly what we would have chosen for ourselves is foolish.  Instead, we must seek to take advantage of all that He offers us… and turn it again to His service!

Challenge:  Don’t let what you wish you had keep you from accepting God’s best for you.  Remember that all good things are a demonstration of His love and can be used in His service… even if they aren’t exactly what we’d hoped for!

The Language Barrier

1 May

Read: 2 Timothy 1:13 – 3:4

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

2 Timothy 2:15 NASB

My area of the country with its winding rivers and abundant farmland is home away from home for a large number of migrant workers.  Because this is not their native land, it is not surprising that a good many of them cannot speak its native tongue.  Factors ranging from the amount of time that workers have available to devote to language learning to the actual difficulty involved in acquiring a new tongue often hinder workers’ ability to communicate clearly with the natives.  I have to give credit to those of who are at least willing to try to learn English and cannot speak poorly of the Hispanic gentleman whom I found myself assisting on this particularly hot summer afternoon.

“Young man, can you help me?”  he enquired, approaching me as I stood stocking a shelf.

At first I was rather taken aback, recalling the blind man who had at one time made the same nearly impossible mistake.  A quick glance was enough to tell me that this gentleman was far from blind and that this error must stem from some other source.

I listened carefully as he awkwardly explained what he needed and I proceeded to assist him to the best of my abilities.  It wasn’t until later that it struck me that perhaps the reason for the odd manner in which he addressed me was due to an error on the part of his language instructor.  Was it possible that someone had informed him that any young person ought to be referred to as “young man?”

My customer very well may have been attempting to be polite, acting upon the advice of a trusted advisor, but the form of address he used was incorrect.  In the same manner, it is easy for us as Christians to rely upon others’ understanding of Scripture rather than our own. In doing so, we sometimes find ourselves acting upon misinformation.

Not everyone who teaches within the Church does so with a clear or full understanding of God’s Word.  It is for this reason that Paul taught individual believers to diligently study the Scripture for themselves.  Not only does this practice enable us to ensure that the doctrine which we are applying in our own lives is sound, but also ensure that the doctrine which we are sharing with others is correct and accurate.

Challenge: This week, pay careful attention to the Scripture passages from the Sunday Sermon, your weekly Bible study, and your daily devotions.  Then, apply the 20/20 rule, reading at least the 20 verses preceding the passage and the 20 verses following it.  You may be surprised at what proper context has to teach you!

Just So You Know

24 Apr

Read: Ephesians 4:1-32

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.”

1 Corinthians 3:2-3a NIV

 

I picked up the phone and tucked it between my shoulder and my ear as I began sorting the paperwork management had left on our desk.  “Nursery, this is Anna.”

“This is one of your customers.  My name doesn’t matter,” replied the woman on the other end.  (I was rather taken aback by the spy-like response.)  “I was just calling to let you know that I have a bunch of peach trees that are just giving me a bumper crop this year!”

Smiling, I leaned back in my chair.  “I’m glad to hear that.”

“Yes, well, I wanted you to know because years ago, someone out there informed me that peach trees don’t grow from peach seeds.  I wanted you all to know in case you’re laboring under some mistaken idea that they don’t, that they do!”

“Well, yes ma’am, peach trees do grow from peach seeds.”  I frowned, puzzling over which employee could have made such an elementary mistake.

“Well, someone told me that they don’t and I just wanted to make certain that you don’t go on giving out misinformation to your customers.”  With that, she hung up.

I laughed as I returned the phone to the wall, imagining how the conversation might actually have gone:

“I just planted some peach pits and I need to know what I need to do to get them to grow,” my customer could have explained.

“You probably won’t be able to.  It’s difficult to get a peach tree to thrive in our climate and growing one from seed is next to impossible.  Besides, pollination will affect the variety of peach that grows from the seed.  It may not have the same quality as the peach from which it came,” my imaginary employee would have replied, clearly sympathetic, but less than hopeful.

Either way, the question would not have been one of peach trees growing from peach seeds, but of whether it was possible to grow such a tree successfully in our area.  Unfortunately, the Corinthian church wasn’t much different.  Paul had given them clear instructions regarding God’s plan for His people.  But just as my customer had failed to remember her early botany lessons, the Corinthians had failed to recall the Apostle’s spiritual lessons.  Instead of adding virtue to their salvation, they continued in sin… and the Apostle found himself repeating what should have been quite clear.  The problem wasn’t one of understanding how salvation was obtained (through the seeds of faith), but of nurturing it properly as it grew.

Challenge:  Are you nurturing your faith properly?  This week, take time to prayerfully consider how you are (or aren’t) growing in Christ.  Then, commit to creating the proper environment for your faith to thrive!

Tulip Elves

10 Apr

Read: Psalm 91:1-16

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you; to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”

Psalm 91:11-12 NASB

It seems that many folks simply don’t enjoy playing in the dirt as much as I do.  They find planting to be the least exciting part of the entire gardening process and are more than ready to hand the task over to any party who seems even vaguely willing to take it on.  For this reason, I wasn’t at all surprised one afternoon when a gentleman came through my line looking for just such a helper.

“You wouldn’t want to come home and plant these for me?” he asked rather hopefully as he plopped several tulip bulb filled paper sacks onto the counter.

“I’m afraid I can’t,” I replied, smiling apologetically. “But I do have good news!  These are special magic tulip bulbs.  If you set them outside overnight, when you come out in the morning, they’ll have planted themselves!”

“You mean the tulip elves come and plant them for you?” the lady behind him asked.

I grinned.  “Exactly!”

While “Tulip Elves”, tiny invisible creatures which sneak in and plant your bulbs in the wee-small hours of the morning are only fanciful beings, there are some invisible beings spoken of in Scripture who work things greatly to our benefit.  These beings are the angels.

Far from being a figment of our imaginations, angels are very real creatures, both ancient and powerful.  While they may not plant our tulips for us, they serve a much more important purpose as God’s servants.  And the good that they do us as His followers is immense.

It is their task to carry out God’s will concerning those who belong to Him and we may rest assured that they are busy watching out for us at all times!  That’s better than a Tulip Elf in anybody’s book!

Challenge: The next time you feel frightened, anxious, or concerned take your problems to God.  He is watching and will send His angels to guard and protect you!

Hobos

3 Apr

Read: Proverbs 16:1-25

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5 NASB

Those who live in eastern states may find the following a little difficult to believe, but to those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, hobos pose a distinct difficulty.  I don’t mean men with packs on their backs who reside by railroad tracks looking for handouts, but the largest and fastest venomous spiders most of us in this area have ever seen.

From August through October, these spiders (sometimes an inch or more long) become incredibly aggressive.  They hide under couches and in closets and, despite what others will tell you, will pursue a target for some distance before giving up the chase. (I should know, since I have personally been chased over and around all sorts of furniture by these Ferrari’s of nature!)

You don’t usually feel it when one of these carnivorous beasts takes a bite out of you (though you find a nice chunk of missing flesh later on) and instead find yourself plagued by some rather severe, but inexplicable pain followed by… well, let’s not gross out my readers too much… we’ll stick with “open sores.”  (Been there, done that.)

Because of the immediate danger posed by these arachnids, a lot of attention is paid to their elimination.  Home owners spray the foundations of their houses with pesticides and they place sticky, hormone-laden traps anywhere an incursion is likely to take place.

When these precautions fail, the best solution I have found is to stand on a staircase three steps above them and throw an endless succession of shoes until the unwanted house guests have been bludgeoned to death.  (I’ve tried drowning them before, but the critters can be amazing swimmers.)

You can imagine my surprise when, upon reading our nursery’s paper on the subject, I encountered the suggestion that homeowners simply vacuum up the little nuisances.  For some reason, the idea of chasing a giant poisonous spider across the floor with a vacuum just doesn’t seem very reasonable… until you try it.  It turns out that the arachnids aren’t fond of machinery and, even at top speed, are incapable of outrunning a sufficiently irritated human.

In the same manner, some of the commands which God has issued don’t seem to make reasonable sense… until we try them.  They seem out of place in our world.  The advice seems to fit only poorly with the atmosphere in our school or workplace.  But in the end, they work.  How wonderful to serve a God who understands the details!

Challenge:  This week, take time to read a few verses from Proverbs each day… then put them into action.  You may be surprised at their effectiveness!

The Pumpkini

27 Mar

Read:  Hebrews 10:19-25

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions… So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

– Romans 14:1, 19 NASB

 

It had been a busy afternoon, interrupted only briefly by the rain storms that had finally decided to grace our all-too-dry farm lands.  We were about thirty minutes from closing when, despite the rain, we had one final sweep of customers and had to open up several tills to handle the flood.  Even this, however, was insufficient to meet the need.

I was standing in the check stand carefully balancing my tasks: conversing with my customer, operating the till, talking on the radio, and answering another customer across the counter… when the phone rang.  Picking it up, I gave my standard “thanks for calling” speech.

The caller waited patiently for me to conclude, then asked, “I wanted to know if there could be such a thing as a pumpkini?”

“A what?” I hesitated, my hands just above my till, waiting for me to total the sale.

“A pumpkini,” she repeated.  “I planted my Zucchini and my Pumpkins fairly close together and I wondered if it were possible that they cross-pollinated.  I picked a Zucchini today and it was green and shaped like a Zucchini, but it was hard like a pumpkin.  When I opened it up it was orange inside and had pumpkin seeds in it!”

I raised my eyebrows and then turned to my boss as I covered the receiver.  “Can a Zucchini and a Pumpkin cross-pollinate?”

The answer?  Yes.

As Christians, we too are able to cross-pollinate.  While stronger believers have the responsibility of setting an example, even the weakest of us have something to give as we engage with others through the act of fellowship.  As Christians interact with one another, we have the opportunity to build each other up, encouraging one another as we strive to develop a closer walk with the Lord.  And one thing is guaranteed: none of us will be left unchanged!

Challenge:  This week, keep your eyes open for opportunities to encourage other believers.  Then, commit to following through when those opportunities present themselves!

Fertile Soil

20 Mar

Read: Luke 8:4-15

“Still other seed fell on good soil.  It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

– Luke 8:8b NIV

My favorite encounters during the sign up period for our garden club were with the stalwart women who formed the core of our nursery’s faithful.  They wouldn’t have dreamed of buying their flowers from anyone, but us.  They came in twice a week, collected bonus dollars, and demanded that all gifts given to them by their family and friends be in the form of gift certificates to the nursery.  It didn’t matter if the chain stores offered the product at a lesser price: we were the store for them.

Because of this, they were more than eager to take a few minutes to hear what I had to say to them about our new program.  Each one recognized the benefits that they had received as one of our customers, but now they had the opportunity to be a member.  Instead of drawing generic benefits which ranged from knowledgeable staff to quality product, they now had access to the inside scoop through members-only classes and special discounts.  The deal was irresistible and it was not uncommon for me to have several of them crowding around the table at once, all reaching for pens and registration forms.

As Christians, we often encounter a similar response to the offer of membership in God’s family.  While there are many people who are quick to reject the Gospel or hesitant to consider it, there are many more who, like these ladies, have already experienced its benefits.  Whether they’ve seen the way that Biblical principles have affected the way they were treated by a Christian employer or have experienced the love of a believing neighbor, they know that a relationship with Christ has the power to dramatically change lives and benefit society.  And they’re ready to take the plunge.

Challenge:  The next time someone rejects your attempts to share the Gospel message, take a look around.  Every Christian you know chose to accept it.  And there are many more out there just like us, waiting to hear the Good News!

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