Friday, February 21, 2014

Holy Guacamole

It's said that Super Bowl Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving in food consumption on a single day of the year. Forget the turkey this go around; the most popular menu items are pizza, wings, and chips and dip. It's the dip that caught my attention this year when I was asked to help promote my store's sales of a popular brand of guacamole and salsa.

For two days I found myself standing beside the display, catching the eye of shoppers nearby, and offering them a taste of guacamole on a tortilla chip or two. I found it to be delightful duty – paid to purposely chat with the many customers I've become friends with over the years, make a few new ones, and offer everybody who happened by a chance to fall in love with my favorite dip.

People are passionate about guacamole – they either love it or hate it, there's no middle ground. Having grown up in California, which produces 90 percent of the fresh avocados consumed in the United States, I've been eating the fruit almost since birth. Guacamole is simply avocado in another form, and makes everything I put it on taste even better. I've been a huge fan for years.

Other people, not so much. I giggled repeatedly at the ones who took one look and shuddered as they hurried by; those who simply couldn't imagine putting something that green and squishy in their mouths, let alone swallowing it down and enjoying the experience! Others told me they had always wanted to try it and never had an opportunity. I quickly handed them a sample in a cup and then watched their faces eagerly, trying to gauge their reaction. Some just shook their heads, dropped the cup in the wastebasket and moved on. But the eyes of many others widened in surprise at how good it was, their hands quickly reaching for the guacamole in the display case...and the chips and salsa offered beside it, as well!

The promotion was a success for a couple of reasons. The place was packed with people shopping for food to eat at their football parties, many of whom weren't necessarily looking for guacamole. But the display was placed right in their path as they entered the produce department at the front of the store. They had no choice but to pass by. I merely took advantage of the opportunity to speak to them and offer them a taste of something good.

God simply asks us to do the same. Of the many people we meet in our comings and goings each day, very few of them may be thinking about a relationship with their Creator as they're headed our way. But God has us strategically placed so that our lives intersect with a purpose; so-called “chance” meetings simply do not exist. And all He asks is that we give them the opportunity to sample something they may never have tried before. So much more than mere party food that is enjoyed for a time and then forgotten, a relationship with God has the potential to change their lives for the better forever.

Many of the people who tried the guacamole for the first time did so on the basis of their relationship with me. I've talked and laughed with them for years as they've come through my checkout line; if now I was promoting guacamole, they'd stop and at least listen to what I had to say. We gain people's ears for God the same way, often based on a relationship that's been built over time.

Some noted my passion for the product I was offering; because I love and eat it myself, it was easy for me to talk favorably about it from my own experience. Likewise my own relationship with God is its best selling point – if I am excited about His presence in my life and the positive changes that have come as a result, I am able to talk about it in a way that leads others to want some of the same.

I met a lot of people who looked at the product I stood beside with disdain, telling me that they made their own guacamole and believed it to be the best. Others had sampled some once and didn't like it. Yet they were willing to give my product a taste, just to see how it compared. Likewise many people are satisfied with their own vision of God, or use a past church experience of their own to judge what a relationship with Him is all about. Many want nothing to do with anything more. And yet if God can just catch their eye somehow through something I say or do, they might be willing to open the door to their hearts and explore a little more.

Many people thought I was offering a mix rather than a ready-to-serve product, and likewise an amazing number of people believe that getting to God is a long and arduous process that takes more time and effort than they're willing to devote to it. They are pleasantly surprised to find that beginning a relationship with Him is as easy as peeling the top off a package and simply digging in to the good stuff inside.

Midway through the two-day event a supervisor happened to mention to me that there was a contest between the stores in our district involving sales of this particular product, encouraging me to do all I could to add to our store's total. It was worth the extra effort I subsequently put forth to later hear my store manager thank me for doing a great job. How much greater is the incentive to work hard for the Kingdom in the days we have left than to hear our Master say at the end of our days, “Well done!”

Taste and see that the Lord is good...”
(Psalm 34:8 NIV)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Surprise in the Skies

Photo courtesy of Kevin Bridge
“I told you I'd be back,” the customer said to me, now ready to come through my line at the grocery store.

With business a little slow at that hour on a Sunday morning I'd been standing at the end of my lane, looking for people who might be ready to check out. I had spotted the man earlier, and had tried to wave him in as he passed by, but apparently he wasn't finished shopping yet. With one more item yet to pick up in the far end of the store, he pointed in that direction as he pushed on, saying, “I'll be back!”

True to his word, there he was. His order was quickly processed and he went on his way, but the words he said echoed loudly in my mind, to the point that I grabbed a scrap of paper and wrote them down.

“I told you I'd be back.”

Maybe because it was a Sunday morning and I was sensitive to missing church, his words to me were more than just a casual comment after crossing the last item off his shopping list. They were a reminder of a spiritual scenario in which we are all participants, whether we're aware of it or not.

When Jesus was gathered with His disciples the last time before His crucifixion, He tried to explain to them that He was leaving for a time, but would return. They didn't understand. He said that He was going away to prepare a place for them, and that He would come back for them, so that they would be together once more.

Since that day, Christians everywhere have been awaiting the fulfillment of that promise. I've noticed, however, that we wait in different ways. Truly, some of us have quit looking for His return altogether, much as I did the customer who walked away from me to get the last item on his list. Out of sight, out of mind, and I quickly forgot about him, until there he stood some time later at the end of my lane once more. And so do we simply carry on with the duties of our days, loving God and living out our days to the best of our abilities, but no longer really expecting Him to return to our world before we leave it and join Him in His.

Others of us, however, are in a hurry to get out of here, to leave the trials and troubles of our earthly existence behind, to check out of this life and get on with the better life promised in the next one – no sorrow, no pain...just joy unspeakable and full of glory. We look for God to come back as impatiently as do the customers in line behind someone who forgot that one item he absolutely has to have! Off he dashes to get it while everybody behind him groans in unison at the delay. They busy themselves for a minute or two looking about them and checking their phones, but after a while every head is turned in the direction the errant customer went, muttering, “Where is he?”, their eyes searching the aisle for the first sight of his bobbing head, hurrying in return.

The truth is that God is busy crossing items off a list, as well...not food items, but the names of our friends and neighbors. He is busy looking for the last of the lost souls that were invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb but have yet to make their commitment to attend. If your loved one's name is on that list, then you are grateful for the patience of the Father Who longs with all His heart for every one of His children to make it Home for the feast.

That doesn't mean we just stand idly by in the meantime. Unlike the other customers in my line, we, too, have work to do to hasten the process along. We should be about the Father's business, but with an open eye and an ear cocked to hear the trumpet's call when the guest list is complete and the Hall is filled. He expects us to be watchfully waiting, as He told His disciples when they pressed Him for details about the timing of His return. He told them to look for the signs of His coming in the world around them.

There are a multitude of strange and unusual phenomena happening around us these days. Arctic snowy owls are spotted in Florida, of all places, while bears not yet in hibernation because of the warm weather wander on ski slopes empty of people because there has been no snow. Devastating extremes in weather conditions bake our hometowns in heat and drought, wash them away in record-breaking floods or bury them in overwhelming snow. Are these simply the result of cyclic changes in weather and animal population patterns, or are they something more? At the very least they should remind us to be looking for the signs of the end of the age that Jesus said would signal His soon return, that we might not be caught unawares.

My Sunday morning customer's sudden reappearance startled me, I admit. He looked at me with a question in his eyes, a tilt to his head and a slight smile on his lips, as if perplexed at my reaction.
“I told you I'd be back.”

Jesus said “...raise your eyes and observe the fields and see how they are already white for harvesting” (John 4:35, emphasis mine)...words to live by, that His return doesn't likewise take me by surprise.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come...So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
(Matthew 24:42,44 NIV)

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