Tag Archives: Christians in Retail

Where Does Evangelism Really Take Place?

3 Jan

I started this blog two years ago at the urging of family members who argued that, “Every serious writer needs a blog.” I had just been laid off from a terrific job (the victim of a company-wide reorganization), and had plenty of time on my hands. I confess that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew that I had a passion for youth, missions, and evangelism and decided to experiment by blogging about all three.

I’ve had a great time and have learned a lot since then. I have a much better idea about what works and what doesn’t than I did in the beginning and now it’s time to narrow the focus. That’s why, over the next few weeks, the blog will be getting a new look and feel. We’ll do our best to make the pages a bit more “reader-friendly” and bring up the tenor of the blog to match our “viewing audience” (most of whom happen to be adults rather than youth).

We’ll also be exploring some new subject matter as we delve into the world of workplace relations. The Bible has quite a bit to say about how we handle ourselves in relation to bosses and coworkers. Most of us spend almost as much time at our jobs as we do at home. Our bosses and our coworkers are our most immediate sphere of influence. They see how we react to unpleasant customers, how we handle disagreements with members of staff, even how we approach simple things like showing up on time. While we may view our presence “on the job” as something that simply pays the bills, our attitudes and actions can have a huge impact on the way bosses and coworkers view both Christians and Christ.

With that in mind, next week, we’re going to begin exploring what it takes to let Christ shine through us in an environment which often appears quite hostile towards faith of any kind. We’ll examine what the Bible says about common workplace issues like teamwork, submission to authority, and job security and take a closer look at some of the stickier issues like dishonesty and discrimination. We’ll also be exploring ways in which we can thoughtfully develop our careers even as we openly live our faith. It’s sure to be an interesting journey and I look forward to our taking it together!

The Beaded Reindeer

25 Dec

Read: Matthew 7:7-27

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

James 1:5

It was a warm, mid-August afternoon and I had spent the better portion of my day standing at the checkout counter unpacking Christmas merchandise.  I’m not certain whose idea it was to start Christmas this early, but several other stores had begun putting their product on display in July, so I suppose we were just keeping up with the flow.

While I was able to clearly identify most of the product I was labeling, there was one item which baffled me.  Long, twisted gold wires with bright red, green, and gold beads created quite an elaborate and sparkly, but indefinable figure.  Upon closer examination, I was able to determine that it was some sort of standup decoration, but even once I’d sorted out which side was “up” (this task was not as easy as one might have hoped), I wasn’t wholly certain what it was.

The curly cues at the back of what I assumed was the head might, perhaps, be antlers, but that seemed unlikely given the doggish shape of the head (complete with a gold beaded nose that made it really hard to tell whether it was a dog or maybe a seal). Then, there were the feet.  Long and fat, they flopped forward for half the body length of the strange creature, making it look like some sort of deformed rabbit.

I turned the creature over in my hands several times.  “What exactly is this supposed to be?”

My manager gazed at it closely for a moment or two and then announced “It’s a deer.  See the antlers.”

I frowned, wondering how she could identify the “thing” with such certainty.

It was at this point that she explained that the catalogue from which she had ordered had not contained any pictures of the product, just descriptions – including one for a “Beaded Reindeer.”

Unfortunately, many times in this world we find ourselves in the same predicament as my manager, being promised one thing and receiving something entirely different instead.  Sometimes these discrepancies are small and inconsequential, but at other times, they can make the difference between life and death.  Fortunately, God doesn’t cut corners on the details.  We can rest assured that He will provide exactly what He has promised… every time!

Challenge:  While we only see pieces of the puzzle, God sees the whole picture.  This vantage point makes Him uniquely qualified to make unconditional commitments to His children… and we can be certain that He will do exactly what He has promised!  The next time you feel tempted to worry, spend a moment in prayer.  Then, commit to trust Him, regardless of your circumstances!

Today’s devotion was excerpted from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce” available in print for $9.99 or on Kindle for $7.99.

My Sparkling Personality

18 Dec

Read: Exodus 34:29-35

“For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Hebrews 3:14-15a

“What is it about Christmas decorations,” I asked, shaking a sugar covered wreath that I had found lying on a shelf, “that requires them to consist of all these little sparkles and things that are destined to fall off all over your carpet every time you touch them?”

“Guess it’s just more festive that way,” my coworker suggested, grinning and shrugging her shoulders.  “It does seem to get everywhere, doesn’t it?”

After a day of merchandising the product, I could easily affirm her statement.  It seemed that the more time I spent with the decorations, the more I had begun to look like one, myself.  The glitter coated my clothes, my face, my hair, and was even inconveniently stuck between my toes.  I attributed my magical glow to “my sparkling personality” and let it go at that, but I couldn’t help feeling that everyone who passed was taking note of my strikingly festive appearance.  Everyone knew where I had been and what I had been doing!

Scripture tells us that, spending time with Christ should have much the same effect as spending time with Christmas decorations – the more we are with Him, the more we will look like Him.  As His Spirit fills us, we will begin to conform more and more to His image and will – leading others to take note of who we are and in whose presence we have been!

Challenge: Are you spending time with God through prayer and the study of His Word?  If not, commit to making time in His presence a regular part of your life.  The more you are with Him, the more like Him you will become!

Today’s devotion was excerpted from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce” available in print for $9.99 or on Kindle for $7.99.

The Headless Santa

11 Dec

Read: Acts 9:1-22

 

“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.”

Acts 9:20–22

 

Decorating a store for Christmas has always been one of my favorite tasks.  There is something wonderful about arranging displays of garland and ornaments, “fluffing” artificial trees, and adorning everything with multi-colored blinking lights.  I feel inspired, even worshipful as I place each nativity on the shelf.  Every now and then, however, someone comes up with a unique decoration idea that may not convey the spirit of the holiday as well as one might hope.

“Are you actually hanging a Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling?”  I asked.  I knew my tone was a bit incredulous, but it isn’t every day that one’s manager is seen trying to strap inverted objects to the roof of a greenhouse.

“Yes,” she replied, as though hardly thinking such an answer was necessary.

I watched with interest for a moment then asked the only question I could think of, the only one that made any sense given the situation, “Why?”  

“‘Cuz I feel like it,” she replied, retrieving the roll of wire which was balanced atop her ladder and beginning to secure the bottom part (and only the bottom part) of a Santa Claus to the tree.

“You know, it’s the wrong holiday for headless things,” I observed.

“I know,” she replied, grinning mischievously. 

For the next hour, my manager worked quietly, eventually wiring on Santa’s head, though it still hung rather precariously from his body.  “You know, that wire won’t hold and Santa’s head is going to fall off in front of some little kid and scar him for life,” I warned.  “He’ll live in mortal terror of Santa Claus!” 

While Santa never did lose his head, I wasn’t amiss in my belief that past experiences, especially traumatic ones, can often affect the way we respond to people or situations in the present.  Scripture, however, teaches that previous experience is not always the best guide.  While we should not be naïve, expecting to see change everywhere, we also shouldn’t be so set in our beliefs that we anticipate the same results in every situation.  God still performs miracles, just as He did with Saul!

 

Challenge: Are you allowing your experiences with certain people or situations to dictate the way you react to similar circumstances in the present?  If you are, commit to weighing each situation honestly and allowing room for God to work.

Today’s devotion was excerpted from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce” available in print for $9.99 or on Kindle for $7.99.

This Little Light of Mine

4 Dec

Read: Matthew 5:13-16

 “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

1 Peter 2:12

One of my favorite Christmas tasks was getting the toy department ready.  I took a particular liking to the baby toys: things that light up and shake and sing songs and spin and flip and spring.  In fact, I was teased quite a bit because my interest in playing with these toys oft times exceeded the interest of the very children for whom they had been designed.

The fascination which I felt with the “three and under” category did not frequently extend to the rest of the department, so it came as a bit of a surprise when one of the “six and over” toys caught my attention.  It was a three foot licorice whip type protrusion which extended from a hard, glittery handle in yellow, pink, orange or green.  When batteries were placed inside of the handle, this extension lit up, producing a glow quite similar to that of a table lamp.  Despite the apparent uselessness of the device, I couldn’t resist the urge to play with it.  First, I tried using it as a sparkler, whipping it around and writing things in the air.  Then, I tried using it as a flashlight to look beneath my manager’s desk (nothing terribly exciting down there).  Finally, I tried some make believe fencing moves with it.  I was hooked.  This was clearly one of the best toys ever invented!

I quickly decided that there was absolutely no way that such a device could stay on the shelf as a display (since no one would have any idea what to do with something labeled “Glo-Wand”) and began carrying one around with me to show off to the other employees.  I do believe that most of them were rather frightened when I emerged from behind shelves and boxes, whipping the lithe plastic tube through the air in as menacing a fashion as I could manage.

During the afternoon when I carried it, however, something interesting struck me: when I was out in the store beneath the florescent lighting, you could barely tell that it was turned on, but when I walked back into a dark corner of the warehouse, the little device let out as much light as Yankee Stadium!  Its light seemed to increase as the darkness increased!

Similarly, as God’s children our light shows up best in the darkest places.  While Christians need to spend time in each other’s company, it is when we are in the company of those who do not yet know Jesus that our lives shine the brightest!

Challenge: Are there some “dark places” where you live, work, or go to school?  Commit to spend some time to bringing light to them!  Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or food bank, take an unsaved co-worker to lunch, or stop by the home of a shut-in.  You’ll be surprised at how much a “little light” can brighten someone’s day!

Today’s devotion was excerpted from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce” available in print for $9.99 or on Kindle for $7.99.

The Nightclub

26 Jun

Read: 1 Peter 5:6-11

“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

2 Corinthians 11:14 NASB

While I love to tell stories about my political experiences, the story of my first (and last) experience in a nightclub is one of my favorites.  It was the night of the Governor’s inaugural ball and the rotunda at the State Capitol had begun to clear.  Everyone was moving on to another party planned to last late into the night and I found myself sitting alone, staring up at the majestic dome.

It was at this point that the Senate Majority Leader, the Senator from my own district, noticed my solitude and asked me if I had a ticket to the next event.  When I responded that I didn’t, he suggested that I come along anyway – promising to take care of the problem when we arrived.

I carefully considered the offer, realizing that I didn’t know where the event was to take place or when I should ask my ride to pick me up.  “Where is it?” I asked, gathering up my coat and purse.

His wife quickly pulled out their tickets which read “Big Easy Conference Center.”  The two looked at each other for a moment as though they had not noticed the name of the venue previously.  After a moment of silence, the Senator turned to me and explained that the last one had been in a hotel conference center, a very nice place, and that he imagined “Big Easy Conference Center” would be quite similar.

Having no other plans for the rest of the evening, I agreed and we all hopped a trolley which had been hired to transport attendees from the ball to the party.  The streets were relatively dark and only seemed to get darker the closer we came to “Big Easy.”  Something told us all that this was not right when we stepped off the trolley and began to walk down the alleyway into which we had been directed, passing an inordinate number of bars on the way.

We finally found the “Conference Center” and when the Senator was asked for his tickets, he simply flipped through the stack which he had purchased for his wife and children and we were allowed to pass.  (I decided it would be best to forgo partaking of any of the food being offered at the event, since I was, essentially, being snuck into the venue.)

Inside, we discovered that the “Conference Center” was actually not a conference center at all, but a night club offering a buffet and karaoke.  The awkwardness we felt was intensified by the fact that most of the people there were in Hawaiian shirts and we were all still in our formals.  We stayed long enough to put in an appearance, then left with a good story that I will still be telling even after I have children and grandchildren of my own.

 The truth is, all of us should have known that something was wrong with the scenario long before we took that walk down the alley.  Despite the good name under which the party was booked, there were plenty of hints that the event would be less than appropriate.

As Christians, we often fall prey to similar traps laid for us by the Devil.  Presenting himself as an angel of light, he lures us into situations that appear to be acceptable, but in the end turn out to be otherwise.  Perhaps this is why Peter cautions believers to be alert.  Only when we’re paying attention to what is happening around us can we be certain to avoid the Devil’s snares!

Challenge:  This week, practice alertness.  Before doing anything (even seemingly good things), take the time to pray and examine the situation carefully.  You may be surprised at the number of traps you avoid!

 

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!

Fit for the Task

12 Jun

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!

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!

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