Devotions, Politics and Government, Workforce

The Chair

Read: Romans 5:1-5

“He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the s of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.”

Malachi 3:3 NASB

 

The “chair” was well over 100 years old and was known to be the most uncomfortable seat in the House.  Five minutes perched atop it and half of one’s body would begin to fall asleep.  Unfortunately, at six feet tall, a ladder was required to mount it and, upon taking up the position, those assigned to it were forbidden to leave.  Yet there it sat: at the front of the chambers, a beacon to any page who wished to simply sit and listen to the day’s business.  From here, I could watch every debate up close.  I could see every prank pulled and hear every word spoken.  It was, in my opinion, paradise.

Unfortunately, this paradise did not always belong to me.  As pages, we were assigned to work on rotations – giving us a better feel for the different aspects of State government.  Each day, we found ourselves with new tasks to perform and new venues to explore.  The only time an exception could be made was if we could find another page who was willing to trade duties with us.  While with most tasks, this wasn’t easy, when it came to the chair, it was another story.  Instead of viewing the assignment as an opportunity, most of the pages saw it as unwarranted torture.  When I offered to trade my assignment for theirs, I almost always got a “yes” and it wasn’t long before the chair was mine: good, bad, and indifferent.

What I saw from my awkward perch was invaluable.  Watching each debate, I learned about the nature of politics, government, morality, and human nature.  I came to understand what works in government… and much about what doesn’t.  I will never lose the lessons I learned in the hours spent up there and have never regretted the discomfort I experienced.

Unfortunately, I don’t always carry this attitude into my spiritual life.  Scripture speaks of God as a purifier, seeking to refine His people and the process of remaking us in His image is sometimes as uncomfortable as that chair in the front of the House chambers.  When we avoid this purification, we miss precious opportunities to grow.  When we patiently endure this discomfort, however, we reap rewards beyond our imagining.  The choice is ours… if only we will make the right one!

Challenge:  The next time you face an uncomfortably situation, try seeing it through God’s eyes.  Look for the lessons to be learned and the ways that this difficult situation will make you more like the One who saved you.  Commit to enduring the trial without grumbling and you may be surprised by the results!

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Devotions, Politics and Government, Workforce

Just for the Fun of It

Read: Ecclesiastes 11:1-10

“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

One of the greatest challenges faced by the House pages was that of opening (and sometimes closing) the heavy wooden doors which barred access to the House chambers.  With glass panes and brass fittings, the antique doors were beautiful to behold.  One tug on the polished handle, however, was enough to identify another important characteristic: they were also extremely heavy.  Moving them was a feat of strength and moving them fast enough to let someone in or out of the chambers required that this strength be applied at great speed.

It was standard practice to assign one or two pages to open these doors for Representatives as they passed through and it wasn’t long before an informal competition had developed.  Paying careful attention to the activities within the chambers, pages would do their best to anticipate when their services would be needed and fling wide the heavy doors before the Representatives ran face-first into them.  This not only gave the ornate porthole a bit of Star Trek flare, but it also prevented excessive medical bills on the part of our elected officials. Sadly, the same doors which allowed access to the chambers also barred any noise from exiting it.  Those who stood without could not hear the debate taking place inside and the result was that tending the doors was, for the most part, an exercise in tedium.

Part way through the session, we realized that there were a few Representatives within the chambers who faced a similar difficulty.  Aside from playing solitaire on their laptops, there was little to keep them entertained during the less important debates and any form of distraction (even if it was only visible through the glass panes of the doors) was welcome.  And so miming became a part of the pages’ regular activities.

We’d walk past the doors as though we were going down a flight of stairs or (when we could recruit others to join us) pass by as an Olympic rowing team.  The longer we were there, the more creative and refined the scenarios became and it wasn’t long before all those who were formerly the captives of boredom were having a great time.

Sadly, it’s so easy to get caught up in what we perceive to be the “important” things of life that we miss similar opportunities to enjoy ourselves.  Focused on duty or image, held captive by deadlines and responsibilities, we fail to take the time to simply stop and smell the roses.

Fortunately, God has provided each of us with plenty of opportunities to smell the roses, be a little silly, and enjoy a good laugh.  Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, “What good is the gift of life if we aren’t taking the time to enjoy it?”

Challenge:  When was the last time you did something “just for the fun of it”?  God created us with a sense of humor and a need for rest and relaxation.  This week, set aside some time just to enjoy being alive.  Engage in a hobby, play a sport, or even watch a television show.  You may be surprised by the amount of good a little “fun” can do!

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Devotions, Garden/Horticulture, Workforce

Did Anyone Follow That?

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!

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Devotions, Workforce

Fit for the Task

Read: Ephesians 4:4-16

“All are not apostles, are they?  All are not prophets, are they?  All are not teachers, are they?  All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not interpret, do they?”

1 Corinthians 12:29-30 NASB

 

“The bathroom is too small,” I announced, rubbing my head as I approached my boss’ desk.

“I’ve never really noticed the size of the bathroom before,” she replied, looking up from her stack of paperwork.

“Well, I did today and it’s too small.”

Her brow furrowed and I could tell she was debating whether it was wise to ask the question, “Why?”

I quickly explained that, on my last encounter with the room, I had managed the unusual feat of smacking my head on the porcelain sink behind the door.  That this was due to the limited maneuvering space was (from my point of view) obvious.  If we gave customers and staff members more than two feet between solid objects, such encounters would be fewer and farther between.

It seemed that from her perspective, the solution was equally obvious.  Laughing, she pointed to me, “The problem isn’t the bathroom, it’s your legs: they’re too long!”  It wasn’t the bathroom’s size that was the problem; it was my size.  I was a bad fit.

Unfortunately, many times in churches we find ourselves in similar situations – badly fit for a specific area of service.  Asked to perform a certain task for the body (helping in the nursery, teaching in a Sunday School class, working as a counselor, or helping in the kitchen), we meet only with failure at every turn.  While we may be tempted to blame elements of the task, i.e., a finicky Christian education board, a poor kitchen layout, or the high demands from the congregation, the reason for our lack of success may not be the job itself, but our own fitness for the task.

As Christians, we must make certain that, while encouraging the exercise of the individual gifts which God has given us, we don’t at the same time box ourselves (or each other) into exercising gifts which we do not possess.  Only when each of us performs our proper function in its proper place will the Church find success!

Challenge:  Prayerfully consider your gifts.  Then, commit to putting them to use in their proper place!

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Devotions, Garden/Horticulture, Workforce

Can You Hear Me Now

 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!

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Devotions, Garden/Horticulture, Workforce

Evergreens

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!

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Devotions, Garden/Horticulture, Workforce

The Rummage Sale

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!

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Devotions, Workforce

Ask the Mechanic

Read: Hebrews 4:13-16

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

Hebrews 4:15 NIV

 

Working retail affords you the opportunity to meet all sorts of people.  Some of them are entertaining, encouraging, and just plain fun to be around.  Others, however, have a unique ability to talk down to nearly everyone.  And for some reason, our service center mechanic seemed to attract more than her fair share of these.

While the “you’re-a-woman-and-can’t-possibly-know-enough-to-fix-my-lawnmower” attitude offended her, there was very little she could do about it.  Instead, each time she found herself confronted by such a customer, she would refer them to her manager.

After attentively listening to the customer’s description of their problem, he would explain that he didn’t know how to mend the merchandise in question… but if they wanted to talk to someone who did, they could ask his mechanic.  One way or another, they always ended up back at the service center, looking her in the eye.

 The truth was that though these customers felt that it was impossible for a female mechanic to have any real mechanical knowledge, she was a good deal more qualified than she may have at first appeared.  She had been working on engines since childhood, had taken each vendor’s repair course, and had been certified and recertified to work on the merchandise which we sold.  Our customers could not have been in better hands.

Unfortunately, as Christians, our attitudes aren’t often that far removed from those of these customers.  While we teach that God is all-knowing, we sometimes behave as though His position beyond the borders of our universe prevents Him from truly understanding and sympathizing with our human struggles.  How wonderful it is to be reminded that He cares so much for us that He took on our flesh and experienced these trials and tribulations just as we do!  Being the Creator of all things as well as having experienced life in human skin, He is duly qualified to deal with all of our problems!

Challenge:  Commit to reading the entire book of John.  As you do, think carefully about the human aspects of Christ’s life: the labor of a carpenter, the sore muscles He must have experienced after a long day on the road, His feelings upon being abandoned by His friends.  Make a list of all the ways in which the Master’s life and yours are similar.  You may be surprised at just how much He can sympathize with your situation!

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Devotions, Workforce

Multi-Purpose

Read: 2 Timothy 3:16-4:8

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”

2 Timothy 3:16 NASB

 

 We were in the process of remodeling the clothing department to give it a more “Western” feel.  All of our merchandise had been moved and reorganized and large wooden ramps and walkways had been installed.  A rustic boardwalk led down our jean aisle, drawing attention to the racks of cowboy hats nearby and faux driftwood signs identified each product.

I had volunteered my services during the remodel and had been assigned the task of helping to reset the boot department.  One of the clothing employees had already devoted hours to the project and every box had been neatly aligned with the edge of the shelving, large boxes at the bottom of the racks and small boxes at the very top.  Her greatest innovation, however, had been the carpet runners which now covered the length of the shelves, holding the display product in place.

In the rush to get the product off the floor and onto the shelves, the department manager had simply slapped merchandise back onto the shelves: ruining the professional look of the display.  Fortunately, by a stroke of luck, we discovered that she had not applied enough adhesive to the carpet runner.  The covering, weighed down by the boots, began to slide towards the edge of the shelving, eventually landing in a heap on the floor… and giving us the perfect excuse for reworking the display.

We immediately set about applying adhesive spray, one of us holding up the carpet runner while the other coated the backside with enough of the sticky aerosol to prevent an elephant from breaking free.  We realigned the runner on the shelving and Presto!

Pleased with the result, I turned to head back to my department.  As the light hit my glasses, I realized that we had applied almost as much adhesive to ourselves as we had to the display.  Dashing to the bathroom, I began soaping down my lenses.  To my great distress, the permanent adhesive did appear to be permanent.

I quickly ran to the break room, nearly mowing down one of our managers on my way.  We had a short discussion about what had happened and he told me to go coat my lenses in WD-40 and then wash them again.  I, of course, thought he was joking, but to my great surprise (and pleasure) discovered that it actually worked and the adhesive came right off!

The Apostle Paul tells us that God’s Word is very much like a spiritual version of WD-40: it’s multi-purpose and good for much more than we originally anticipate.  The same words that convict us of sin can also guide and heal us.  How nice to know that God has not only foreseen our needs, but also provided for them well in advance with His own multi-purpose product!

Challenge:  This week, read a single Bible verse each day.  Then, spend the rest of your devotional time prayerfully considering (and writing down) all of the lessons that can be learned from each verse.  You may be surprised at what you discover!

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Devotions, Garden/Horticulture, Workforce

The Language Barrier

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!

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