Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Delayed Departure

With just five minutes left till the end of my shift at the grocery store, I had already clocked out mentally for the day. I spent my last moments on the job dreaming about what I would eat when I got home, which family members were likely to be there, and how I'd spend the next couple of hours before once again climbing into bed. Suddenly my manager appeared beside me with a question that made my heart drop to the bottom of my empty stomach. "Would you stay a little longer and work on the reshop?" she asked.

"Reshop" is grocery store lingo for the items that are taken off the shelves but that for some reason don't make it out of the building. They are products picked up by shoppers in one aisle and later discarded in another, or that the customer has changed his mind about purchasing by the time they reach the checkout line. The groceries that have to be removed from an order because the total on the screen eclipses the amount of money in the person's wallet fall into this category, as do the bags of purchased goods that are inadvertently left at registers and any items that are found to be damaged in some way. Such goods are collected throughout the day by managers walking the store and by front-end employees who gather it from the bins under each register and load it all into carts that are pushed into a corner. All day long various employees work on sorting the items and returning them to their proper locations, but if nobody else has time to get to it before hand, it's the night cashier's job to put it all away. There's a standing rule that all such displaced items have to be taken care of by the time the store manager arrives for work at the start of the next day.

"Would you stay?" With a sigh I turned off my light, closed down the register and headed to where three grocery carts were loaded and awaiting my attention. But as I approached the one closest to me I noticed that placed right on top of the pile of packages was a small, white business card with just three words printed in black lettering that read, "GOD LOVES ME." I picked it up in amazement, wondering who had placed it there so carefully that it hadn't slipped between the jumbled boxes and bags below it but sat squarely in th front of the cart, waiting for me to find it. Suddenly I burst out laughing as I realized that my staying late was not due to a managerial request at all but was rather a set-up from God who had a message He wanted to deliver, an answer to a prayer I'd been praying for some time.

The Bible tells us to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us about the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), yet my efforts to do so at work have often been a dismal failure. The words that come out of my mouth sound stilted and awkward, or else my explanation becomes too long-winded to go into on company time. I'd asked God to help me give a simple response when asked about the joy inside of me, or how I stay positive in negative times. And He did so in just three words:
God loves me. Truly the day those words moved from what I knew in my head to what I believed in my heart, my life changed forever. These then were the words I needed to share.

It was significant that God even printed them on a pocket-sized piece of paper, as my pants pockets are normally filled with items to give away. I carry loose change for shoppers who are a few cents short so they don't have to run to their cars and raid their dashboard stash. When people ask me where I go to church or how to get to the food pantry that operates out of it, I reach in and pull out a business card with the church's name, location and service times on it. Now I likewise have an easy yet powerful answer to the other questions I hear repeatedly, coming in contact with the public on a daily basis as I do. I slipped the card in my pocket and went on about the job of putting misplaced grocery items away.

A few days later God took me back to that incident at the grocery store and likened the situation to the end-time events we are now experiencing. As the clock on this world winds down, we Christians are more than ready to go Home. We eagerly anticipate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and emotional reunions with loved ones who have gone on before us. Heaven fills our thoughts as we wonder what it will look like, who we will see and what we will do. And in the midst of our speculation, our Master appears beside us and reminds us that there is still work to be done. Daily we come into contact with people as numerous as the reshop items in my grocery carts, who are likewise misplaced in their spiritual experience and in their relationship with God. Some once stood solidly in God's Kingdom but somehow fell off their feet, off the wagon, or out of the loop, and now can't seem to find their way back. Others have been damaged by the life experiences they've been through, while still others feel lonely, forgotten and rejected by all. Each of them needs a personal interaction with one of God's workers who has had his heart and his life (and maybe even his pants pockets) filled with the love and gifts of God to give away - the very words and actions that might restore one who was hurt or lost in time to join us when we're all suddenly called away.

We often hear the expression "if Jesus should tarry" in discussions on the end of the age, yet the Bible tells us that even Christ doesn't know the day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36). The Biblical timeline rests solely in God's hands, and end-time events will unfold at His command. So if there seems to be a delay, perhaps it's due to the mercy and compassion of a loving Father who is asking those in His employ if they will stay a little longer at this, the end of days, and work toward the hope that a few more lost souls will yet find their way.

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
(2 Peter 3:9 NKJV)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Menu Option or Marching Orders?

Anybody who knows me knows that I love to eat breakfast out. There's something about heading to a restaurant for a morning meal that transforms an ordinary day into something special. And likewise they know that while I'll eat breakfast anywhere, my morning restaurant of choice is Bob Evans. My mother-in-law and I decided once that our preference for that spot was due to the abundance of smiles that always greats our entrance there. And finally, they know that I don't need to look at the menu, because rare is the day that I order anything but the "Rise and Shine" - two eggs cooked the way you like them, with hash browns and a choice of meat and bread. Add a couple of cups of coffee and a day just doesn't get started any better than that.

No wonder the menu asserts that the selection is their most popular breakfast pick! Even the paper placemats on the table advertise that option, combining it with a picture of a sunrise over lush, fertile farmland, as if to suggest that surely this is what "breaking a fast" - even if it was just overnight - was meant to be.

Apparently one day recently my mind was too rooted in my carnal love of food to hear what God was trying to say to me, distracted as I was by the smell of fresh coffee and bacon on the grill. So He abruptly switched tactics, accompanying me on a later shopping trip to a discount store and showing up big time on a line of brightly colored summer clothing I was walking by. As He knew it would, my eye went straight to a turquoise-colored t-shirt, across the front of which was written... Rise and Shine!!! I stopped and fingered the fabric, wondering suddenly if there was more to my life experience in those three words than mere calories. Were they more than just a menu option, perhaps? Could they possibly be a command from God?

Rise and Shine. Maybe God is saying it's time...time to do more than just go about our days eating, sleeping, earning a living...biding our time till the end of time. Perhaps He is summoning His troops for a last big push against the enemy's agenda in these, the last days. Rise and Shine would instead then be a call to service, a reverie to rouse a sleeping army, sending us to the battlefield. Perhaps it's an impassioned plea to put the gifts and callings He's placed on our lives to work for His purposes before time is no more. For soon there will be no more time for those friends, family members and even total strangers around us who don't know the Lord. Now is the time to make their salvation secure.

Apparently Jesus had a fondness for breakfast out, as well. One of my favorite Bible stories is the one that finds the disciples back in their fishing boats after Jesus' death and resurrection. Hailed by a voice on the shore asking if they'd caught anything, they replied in the negative. When instructed to cast their nets on the other side of the boat they pulled in a catch that their boats could barely hold. Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus as the one speaking to them from the shoreline where He was cooking a meal of fish over a campfire. He invited them to bring over some of their morning haul. Now if anything could beat breakfast at Bob Evans, it would be a morning meal of fresh-caught fish cooked over a campfire by Jesus. Talk about good food and good company! It sounds a little like Heaven on earth to me!

It turned out to be God's version of the Rise and Shine. After inviting His disciples to sit down and eat, He reinstated Peter and sent Him back to the battlefield, instructing him to feed and care for His followers.

Could it be that now He's saying the same to us? Morning by morning He meets with us and feeds us from His Word. Then He sends us out to face the day and fight the enemy on His behalf, winning souls for the Kingdom and nurturing the sheep that are already in the fold. Most of us know that we are called and commissioned to a work for the Lord. But for many of us it's something that we'll get to someday in the future. And perhaps God is telling us that our "somedays" are suddenly upon us, that now is the "appointed time" (Habakkuk 2:3 NIV) to truly rise and shine.

"Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (Isaiah 60:1-3 NIV, emphasis mine)
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