Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Fourth is Free

When first-of-the-month shoppers combine with Super Bowl devotees in full party preparation mode, the end result is a grocery store madhouse of people filling their shopping carts to later fill their bellies with the wares to be found on the grocery store shelves. Lines are long at each register and tempers are short.

Wanting to cash in on this early February spending frenzy, the store details incredible savings on certain products in the weekly ad to draw the buyers in. One such deal occurred in the pop aisle, where all brands and flavors were on sale.

Buy three, get one free. It seemed simple enough. But you’d be surprised at the amount of confusion that one short sentence can create.

The signs in the soda section weren’t much help. One advertised that 12-packs of pop were selling 3 for $11, or $3.67 each. Yet another read that if you bought four such 12-packs, the fourth was free. So were they 3 for $11, or 4 for $11? Both! No wonder the shoppers were confused!

In the midst of the shopping madness, grocery store cashiers tend to rush each customer through their order as quickly as possible to get to the next person waiting impatiently behind them. Yet after a week of scanning cans of pop, it’s hard not to notice when a shopper puts just three 12-packs on the belt instead of four, thus missing out on the freebie. The question is what to do about it. There is a temptation to say nothing at all, to just scan the groceries as they come down the line and push the person on through, justifying the action with the thought that the customer knows best what he wants to buy. Yet it takes just a minute to explain the deal to them and offer to scan an extra pack of pop so they can go back and get what’s coming to them. Some people are simply in a hurry to get out of the store and don’t care about the extra savings. But in this time of tight budgets, most people are genuinely grateful that the matter was brought to their attention.

Life can be difficult to understand, as well. We go about our days looking for signs to guide us and send us in the direction of the best deal to be found in all areas of our lives. Conflicting information bombards us, and too often what seems to be good information one week is like the prices on an out-of-date sale ad, simply invalid the next. Truth appears to be as elusive as the good health, emotional stability and financial success we all seek. Sometimes even our spiritual guides are not the help they should be in navigating us through this life to our forever Home.

Our Christian walk can become much like an over-busy weekend in the grocery store. Like everybody else we have too much to do in too little time, and we tend to rush through our days trying to get it all done. Yet in our interactions with people it’s hard not to notice when they haven’t fully grasped the concept of grace, that their salvation has already been paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. Many are still trying to pay for that which has been offered to them for free. It’s theirs for the asking, as well as the favor found in a Christ-filled life on this earth in terms of health, help, and hope for the future.

The question is what to do about it. As a grocery store cashier and a Christian, I live in both these scenarios. And to my shame I have to admit that I’m much more likely to point out a missing sale item than an overlooked salvation, verbally, at least. There are reasons, of course - one too many rebuffs from people who are so consumed with the here and now that they can’t consider the hereafter. It’s easy to say that salvation is a personal matter and everyone has to figure it out for themselves. Yet I can’t get past the fact that somebody risked my rejection in telling me. My soul was saved and my life dramatically changed. How can I possibly do less for somebody else?

The sale prices in our store ads are good for just a week. Salvation is likewise a limited time offer; it ends when a life does or the world does, whichever comes first. If we’re too busy, too timid or too lazy to tell somebody about it, for them it could be too late. Eternity is simply too long to think of missed opportunities.

A free pack of pop is good only as long as there are cans left in the carton, but eternal life is just that - good times without end. Consider which is the better deal, and then let your heart of compassion convince you to get the word out. God will be glad you did.

“All who call out to the Lord will be saved. How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?”
(Romans 10:13-14 CEV)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Conversations from the Heart

“Let’s see, on Monday we can eat the lasagna…,” the woman began, trying to engage her distracted husband in menu planning for the coming week as they unloaded the groceries from their cart onto the belt in my checkout lane. He was more interested in getting something to eat now, as he stopped her twice to ask if she wanted first a pop from the cooler at the end of the aisle and then a candy bar from the racks beside them. After the second interruption she responded resignedly, “That’s okay. I’ll talk to you about this later…”, and she and I shared a laugh about his clear lack of focus on the topic at hand.

We all know from experience how frustrating it can be to try to talk to someone whose mind is absorbed by something else, be it a game on the television screen, an article in a newspaper spread out before them, or a pressing problem on the job. To be 50% involved in a conversation is to be 100% rude, and yet we’ve all been on the wrong side of that equation before, myself included. It’s bad enough when we act that way with a spouse or a friend, but all too often we’re likewise distracted in our conversations with God.

I’ve noticed it myself recently in my morning devotional times. Rarely does God come to the table without a topic at hand that He’s ready to discuss. And while I may listen attentively at first, soon I’m thinking about what happened yesterday at work, what I want to write on the open journal page before me, or the list of things I want to accomplish that morning before heading out the door. In short, while I’m physically present, my mind and heart are clearly not connected to the conversation that God desires to have with me.

At times when I’m the one trying to communicate a thought with my distracted spouse, I know that he hears me talking, but I‘m painfully aware that he‘s not listening. So I’ve eventually stopped speaking, just to see how long it will be before he notices. I’ve noticed that sometimes God does the same. It’s a move that never fails to get my attention, for sure. While my verbal inactivity might be a welcome respite to my husband’s overworked ears, I need to hear God’s thoughts on everything that pertains to me, and His silence is simply more than I can bear.

These thoughts come to me just weeks before Valentine’s Day, when the promotional display at the front of the grocery store is laden with little boxes of Sweethearts candy, those little bits of heart-shaped sugar, each of which has a sweet sentiment printed on top in one or two words. A nearby sign proclaims them to be the official candy of love. All I know is that they are incredibly addicting, and that having sampled one or two, I return for handfuls of the same until the little box lies empty and crumpled in a nearby trash receptacle. I simply can’t resist them.

Neither can I resist the love of God, who uses the exact same method to bring my attention back to Him. He speaks His love to me a word at a time, knowing that those few syllables will never satisfy me and I’ll return to Him again and again to hear more of what He has to say on the subject at hand until I’ve finally understood the message in its entirety. It’s when I listen with my heart, not just my ears, that the conversation can have life-changing results.

That’s why this subject is important to God. It’s not just our lives that He’s trying to change. If we’re not hearing from Him, we likewise have nothing of real value to pass on to those around us who listen to us on a regular basis. Composer Nico Muhly once said about his work, “The first thing I ask myself with every piece: Is it preferable to silence?” And perhaps that’s a question we should ask ourselves before we open our mouths, our laptops, or the message app on our phones to “speak“, as well.

Much as the shopper in my line at the store was trying to discuss what they were to eat each day, God likewise has a daily meal plan to nourish us spiritually, conversations from His heart to ours that come to us through our ears rather than our mouths. Maybe it’s time we truly listened to what He has to say.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15 MKJV)
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