Church Parking Lot Etiquette. Does It Affect The View Of The Church In The Eyes Of Those Who Are Not Members?

Several cars dotted the parking lot at the church building when I pulled into it. Most were parked near the fellowship building where the ladies’ Bible class was being held.  But there was one car which was sitting off to itself, parallel to the street, and very near the door of the main building which I planned to enter.  It was clear that the occupant of this car did not plan to participate in the class, and that she had conveniently pulled into the parking lot to get out of the line of traffic.

Usually, when I notice a stranger parked in the lot, I will ask them if they need help, or if they are wanting to talk with someone from the church.  The occupant of this car was speaking on her phone, so I continued past her and entered the building. Just before shutting the door, I turned to give her a southern-style wave of acknowledgement. She had ended her call and was wiping tears.

Not knowing exactly how to handle the situation, I started back out the door to see if I could help, but she put the car in gear, and headed down the street.

As she left, I couldn’t help but wonder if my arrival and actions had prompted her abruptness in ending the phone call and driving away.  Did she think she was interrupting or obstructing some church event? Did she think that I considered her a trespasser? Did she think I wanted her to leave, and that I was returning to ask her to do so?

I hope not.

And I think probably not. Probably, she had come to a stopping place in the conversation, and she needed to deal with the emotional news (whatever it was) on her own. I’m also confident that she would have been reluctant to share it with a male stranger.

But the experience did make me wonder about how outsiders view the church when they encounter its members.

Do we give them the impression that they are an obstacle parked in the way of our carrying out our daily mission, or do we give them the impression that being available to offer them support is our mission?

Do we give them the impression that we feel that they are trespassing on private, “holy” ground, or do we give them the impression that we fervently desire to help them come into the presence of the only one who can make anything holy?

Do we give them the impression that we had rather they leave us alone, or do they feel welcomed, accepted, supported, and loved in our presence?

May we, as Jesus’ representatives to the world, always exhibit the same loving concern for others as he exhibited.  May the world be drawn to Jesus because they have met us, and not in spite of the fact that they have encountered us.

“The people held them in high esteem, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” (Acts 5:13b, 14) ESV

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Who’ll Give $2.95 For This Dozen Eggs? Not I. That’s Too High. But I Will Give $3.99.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a chain store to purchase some basic foods; milk, eggs, bread, etc. I chose the store because it was convenient and I thought the items would be reasonably priced.

The price label revealed the milk to be about $1.50 higher than I could get it at a large retail store about 10 miles away, but that wasn’t enough variation to warrant traveling the extra miles.

The eggs did not have a price sticker. I grabbed 2 dozen and took my selections to the cashier. It turns out that the eggs were $2.95/dozen.  Sarah and I both thought that price was a little high.  It turns out I could have gotten 18 eggs for about $1.25 at the large retail store.

I’m not a cheapskate, but the extra money I spent that day broke my heart.

Today, I went to another small community to buy the same basic food items.  This time, I thought I would try a third regional grocery chain, hoping their prices would be more comparable to the big chain store.

The milk was about $2.00 higher than the chain store’s.  I gritted my teeth and placed it in the cart.  The eggs were priced $3.25 per dozen.  I just couldn’t pay that price, so I bought the milk and some yogurt for our granddaughter, thinking that I could stop to get the eggs for $2.95 at the other store.

I couldn’t. They were $3.45 there. So, I left without them.

I grumbled, and argued with myself about being so cheap.  About halfway home, I stopped at a Mom-and-Pop store. I paid $3.99 for the dozen eggs.

But, I feel good about the purchase, because I know firsthand how expensive farming can be, and the current struggle of all farmers. I helped one of my own make a little money on his produce. And I helped a small local business make a little profit as well.

Spiritually, when it comes to where we worship and the body of teaching we accept, we often approach our decision the same way that I approached this type of shopping.  We want the basics, but we want them offered to us as conveniently and as cheaply as we can find them. We don’t want to invest much, nor do we want to sacrifice much.

Yes, we know the cost of salvation.  It was Jesus’ life-blood. We want the benefit of his sacrifice, without having to sacrifice anything of our own.

If this is our outlook concerning becoming a disciple of Christ and living the christian life, then we have missed the point.  What we are looking for is a cheap knockoff of the gospel truth.

If this is our outlook concerning becoming a disciple of Christ and living the christian life, may we meditate upon the following passages:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) ESV

“You were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) ESV

“Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14) ESV

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Alone At Last! The Best Part Of A Christian’s Alone Time Is Realizing That She Is Not Really Alone.

About every day for the past several months, our toddling granddaughter has taken a break from her playing by either crawling underneath the dining table or hiding behind a piece of furniture.  When one of us peeks at her to check on her, she will wave and bid us, “Bye. Bye.” There was a time when this meant that she was exercising full use of her diaper. But now, it simply means she wants to be alone for a while. The above photo is an example of this. It was taken at her birthday party. After receiving some chocolate candy, she “hid” beneath the table to eat it in solitude while the party continued without her.

Most all of us need alone time; even the energetic extraverts who thrive among us. Many of us have a special place or two into which we quietly retreat so that we can refocus and recharge.  Our special place(s) may be our bedroom, a sudsy tub of water, a rocking chair, a porch swing, a turkey blind, or a secluded trail through a woodland.

When we are in “our own little corner, in our own little chair” (throwback to Roger’s and Hammerstein’s, Cinderella), we do not have to worry about the world crashing in on us.  Although we know it is not true, in that place, it feels as if we are completely safe and protected from all the evil and stressful situations with which the world bombards us.

In our minds, for those few moments, we are alone. We are safe. We are in control.

But a christian realizes that she is not alone. She realizes that seated or walking beside her is a powerful friend with which she can share her fears, her concerns, and her stressful anxieties. She is free to be herself without fear of rejection. With this friend, even the shyest introvert can openly express every thought and every care which burdens her heart.

Jesus’ presence transforms our time in that special place into some of the sweetest and dearest fellowship we will ever experience.

A song written by Cleland B. McAfee (Near to the Heart of God) best describes this time with Jesus and the Father:

There is a place of quiet rest,

Near to the heart of God;

A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,

Near to the heart of God;

A place where we our Savior meet,

Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,

Near to the heart of God;

A place where all is joy and peace,

Near to the heart of God.

Chorus:

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,

Sent from the heart of God;

Hold us who wait before Thee,

Near to the heart of God.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

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How Much Will These Words Cost Me Or Make Me?

“Words are free.  It’s how you use them, that may cost you.” (KUSHANDWISDOM via pinterest.com)

This quotation expresses a great truth which we all should heed.  Words are both free and plentiful.  Although they are free and easily passed on to others, every word possesses some type of value.  We can use our words to tear down others, or we can openly express our words with the hope of building up others.

We can spend our words or we can invest them.

To tear down another with our words is to spend our words.  Gossiping, lying, backbiting, cursing, and telling coarse jokes are all ways of spending our words. When we spend our words in these fashions, the cost will often be far more than we ever imagined.  We may lose family, friends, spiritual brethren, credibility, the respect of others, and possibly even our own souls.

Jesus said, “I tell you on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) ESV

Paul exhorted, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) ESV

Words are free, yet every word possesses some type of value. We can either spend our words, or we can invest them.

To try to build up others is to invest our words.  When we invest our words, we will often receive far more in return than we expect. We may gain family, friends, spiritual brethren, credibility, the respect of others, and possibly even the preservation of our own souls.

Four ways that we can build up others are:

  1. To speak words of appreciation for who they are; letting them know that we appreciate their kindness, goodness, love, intelligence, etc.
  2. To speak words of thanksgiving for the things they have done; letting them know that we have noticed their actions of love and kindness.
  3. To speak words of encouragement for who they can become; exhorting them to live up to the potentials they possess.
  4. To speak words of exhortation for who they should become; encouraging them in their faith and their need to be loyal to God.

Each of us, whether we are a child, a teen, a young adult, or a mature adult, needs to hear these types of valuable words.  For each of us, the following passages prove true.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” (Proverbs 12:25) ESV

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) ESV

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) ESV

“Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.”  This expresses a great truth.

But another great truth may be expressed: “Words are free.  It’s how you invest them that may determine the bountifulness of their return.”

May we wisely invest every word we utter.

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The Mother Duck Which Gave Her Life for Her Offspring. (This Is Not A Fairy Tale.)

Several years ago, as I was mowing the tall grass in the pasture field of my dairy, I noticed a clump of feathers partially hidden in the mown grass which covered the ground of my previous swath.  My initial thoughts were that I had uncovered the remains of a rather large bird which had died several days before.  But as I drew closer, the amount, freshness, and density of the feathers told me that I was wrong.

My heart sank.

I stopped the tractor to investigate.  The feathers were duck feathers. They were located several hundred yards from the nearest pond. There seemed to be only one reason why a wild duck would be buried down in tall grass, and why she would not have flown away as the loud tractor drew closer with each round.

When I reached the duck’s body, my suspicions were confirmed. Underneath her were 12 warm eggs, nestled in a carefully crafted nest.  The mother had protected these eggs to the end.

I’ve often wondered what went through the duck’s mind each time I made a round with the tractor and mower.  Did she fear?  Did she ever begin to spread her wings in preparation for flight?  I will never know.

But one thing I do know. When faced with a choice between the preservation of her own life, or the preservation of her eggs, she chose her offspring over her own life.

That same type choice can be found in the story of the cross.

Jesus came to this earth to save sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15). He came to save you and me.  God planned the cross from the beginning. (Acts 2:23-24). Jesus knew this. (Matthew 16:21). Each day brought him one day closer to enduring the despised instrument of torture.  But each day that he lived, his resolve to fulfill the plan grew stronger. On the day that he died, no one took his life from him; he laid it down for you and me. (John 10:17-18). Did he ever want to back out?  His pleas in the Garden of Gethsemane may indicate that he did. (Matthew 26:39). However, when the time came to choose between his own life, or that of you and me, Jesus chose us.

And he considered it an honor to do so.

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) ESV

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Coffee May be Brewed To Suit Our Individual Tastes. The Truths Of The Bible Cannot.

I am not a major coffee drinker.

Yes, I drink a cup or two in the mornings while I sit with the other old men at the local country store.  And I will occasionally drink a cup at night if my wife makes a desert for supper. But I have never developed an intense craving for the drink, or an addiction to the caffeine.

Since I do not crave either the taste or the “kick”, I like my coffee weak.  Most restaurant blends are far too strong for me.  When making a pot at home, I will generally put 2 ½ tablespoons of mid-roast grains in the filter for a 10-cup carafe. I like to see the bottom of my cup through the amber liquid. For most people, this doesn’t make sense.  And for true coffee drinkers, this is crazy.  In their minds, I would be just as well-off drinking plain hot water.

And I suppose they are correct.  But I like what I like.  I have tried to develop a taste for a stronger blend and steeping, but the enjoyment is just not there.

Spiritually, we often approach the truth of the Word with the same attitude as we use in brewing our coffee.  Some like a strong, straightforward, dark truth.  The kind that says everything in their lives is wrong, unless the Bible specifically says it is right.  They like to hear a version of the truth that challenges them to change and adapt every part of their lives to fit the teachings. Others like a weak, vague, light truth.  The kind that says everything is in their lives is right unless the Bible specifically says it is wrong.  They like a truth that invites, “Come as you are, and stay as you are. No change is needed.”

But God did not design the truths of the Bible so that we can adapt them to our individual tastes. God does not desire that we apply his teachings more strongly than he intended, but neither does he desire that we water down his teachings.  God does not want us to pessimistically view everything in life as being wrong, where every minute of every day must be seen as a struggle to change the entire world; but neither does he want us to view everything as being right, where anything that pleases us, pleases him.

God did not design the truths of the Bible so that we can adapt them to our individual tastes. Rather he expects us to adapt our individual tastes to his truths.

That’s called faith.  That’s called repentance. That’s called conversion.

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19) ESV

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (Colossians 1:3-6) ESV

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I Have Never Needed Insect Repellent Before. Why Should i Need It Now?

“Bring insect repellent.”

This exhortation has been included on every tour description we have taken over the past 7 years in Peru.  But I have never experienced the need for the repellent. Apparently, mosquitoes can’t live in the higher altitudes.

This year’s tour description was no exception to the rule. But I failed to pack the repellent. I brushed off the oversight, reasoning that I wouldn’t need it anyway since I had never used it before.

At the prep rally, two days before the tour, the tour guide warned us that one of the stops where we would be getting out of the van was at a lower altitude. He stressed that there would be mosquitoes.  He stressed that we needed insect repellent. Once again, I brushed off the warning.

When we arrived at the touring site, there were some “gnats” flying around, but I didn’t see any mosquitoes, so I thought I was safe.

Later, when we stopped for lunch, these same “gnats” hovered around us.  I swatted one on my arm.  It was filled with blood.  These were the mosquitoes we had been warned about.  I checked my arms and they were covered with bites. The bites did not hurt when the gnats had made them, nor did they ever itch or hurt.  But I had definitely been attacked by blood suckers.

Spiritually, God warns us about the presence, prevalence, and dangers of sin.  He tells us that sin will be around us wherever we go.  He exhorts us to resist sin by drawing near him. He warns us that if we do not draw near him, sin will infest our lives.

We look around us and think that we really don’t need God’s help; that we have made it through life pretty good on our own, and we really haven’t encountered any “sin”.  We see actions occurring all around us which appear to be nuisances and aggravations, but not harmful sin.  These actions don’t look like our concept of sin. So, we put up with them, thinking the whole time that we are not being affected.

Then one day, after it is too late, we realize that these nuisances are filled with blood; our blood. We realize that these are the sins God warned us about. And, they have silently and stealthily been attacking us, biting us, affecting us, until we find ourselves “eat up” with the sin.

May we always listen to God’s exhortations, striving to use his power to resist the sin of this world, so as not to become secretly and silently infected by it.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13) ESV

 

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Sweetness Can Be Enhanced By Sweetness

It was a plain bar of milk chocolate, but it may have been the “sweetest” candy I have tasted.

No, it didn’t physically taste any different than any of the chocolate we can buy here in the States.  The “sweetness” came in the process through which I had come into possession of the chocolate bar.

“I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you!’ for coming down to help us and for all the work you have done.  I hope you enjoy it.”

A Peruvian young lady of about 20 years old chose these English words to explain the reason behind the gift. She worked as hard as any of us in the optical department of our medical campaign.  She sat for hours each day, translating the patients’ questions from Spanish to English, and then our responses from English to Spanish. Yet she did not want credit for the work she had done. She just wanted to say, “Thank you!”

Each of us received this same type of gift expressed in different ways.  The spontaneous, fervent hug a physical therapist received from the mother of a small child who is confined to a wheel chair, after the therapist had shown the mother therapeutic exercises which will help the child develop.  The bright smile those in the “lentes” (lenses) department witnessed when a patient received a pair of glasses which corrected his extremely poor eyesight. The voluntarily offered hand of a child who felt safe and loved in the presence of strangers who had invaded his neighborhood.

This morning, I thought long and hard about the chocolate bar.

I sat in a plane seat clutching a small bag of pretzels, waiting for the stewardess to pour me a cup of soft drink.  I expected this refreshment.  It was a part of my airfare. I had paid for it. I would have been disappointed had I not gotten it. Those pretzels and that cup of liquid were a symbol of the commercialized, materialistic world we live in; a world where almost everything is for sale, and very few things come without a price.

At that moment, I once again looked into the eyes of an energetic, smiling young lady as she sweetly explained, “I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you!’ for coming down to help us and for all the work you have done.  I hope you enjoy it.”

That was the one of the “sweetest” chocolate bars I have ever tasted.

“Give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38) ESV

 

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Wisdom Often Determines The Rightfulness Or Sinfulness Of A Practice.

Suppose there is a drug which legally can be purchased and consumed by almost anyone. Consuming the substance is not necessary to sustaining life, but simply a choice. Suppose at least one member in almost every family in the world has chosen to consume the drug, and through its consumption has developed a life-threatening disease. In fact, many families have had multiple members to prematurely die because they chose to consume the chemical compound. There is no doubt that the consumption of the drug is the sole cause of the disease within these loved ones. No drug, no disease.

What would be a wise public response to such a drug? What choice should a person make concerning his own consumption of the substance? What would a responsible parent teach his children about that drug?  What should Christians teach their fellow man about consuming the potential life-altering, life-threatening drug?

Knowledge is accumulating and storing facts in our minds.  Wisdom is the ability to use the accumulated knowledge to its best potential.

Wisdom visualizes the potential power of the accumulated knowledge. It evaluates the hidden good or evil within the information. Worldly wisdom seeks to use its knowledge for its own pleasure. Godly wisdom chooses to utilize its knowledge with the intent of benefitting everyone concerned. (James 4:13-18)

Mankind’s ability to accumulate knowledge has led to the discovery and development of many kinds of chemical compounds, and mechanical tools.  Almost all these discoveries and developments have had potential to benefit mankind.  However, mankind’s inability to control himself when it comes to using these discoveries has often led to abuse, self-destruction, dependency, and atrocities.

Christians regularly find themselves debating the rightfulness or the sinfulness of employing certain discoveries. The use of these chemical compounds or mechanical tools is not specifically condoned or condemned within the scriptures.  Within the debate, knowledge freely flows forth. Many factual details are brought to light. Yet very little progress is made toward arriving at a conclusion because the participants have forgotten that the rightfulness or sinfulness of the practice may not lie in the substance itself, but in the wisdom of those who choose to use it.

An illustration of such debates can be found concerning the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (reread the beginning illustration), the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, the ongoing gun-control debate, etc.  In each of these discussions, the point that is continuously brought to the forefront is: “The Bible doesn’t specifically and emphatically state, ‘Thou shalt not.’ Therefore, I have a right to participate in this practice. And since I can do so in all good conscience, I am going to engage in the practice, regardless of the consequences, and regardless of how it affects others.”

When we approach debatable practices with this attitude, we are demonstrating that we are not addressing them with Godly wisdom, but worldly wisdom; that which is earthly, selfish, and unspiritual.

May we always strive to continually attain and accumulate knowledge, but may we also continually seek to apply that knowledge with Godly wisdom.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 4:13) ESV

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10) ESV

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.” (Proverbs 8:12) ESV

The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” (Proverbs 14:8) ESV

 

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My Wife Does The Most Disgusting Thing! I Almost Gag Just Thinking About It.

My wife does something that is really disgusting.

It’s so gross that I almost gag just sitting here thinking about it.

I know you’re not supposed to gossip or talk about others, but I just can’t help it.

The thing my wife does is . . .

. . . put a strainer in the kitchen sink drain so that it catches all the food scraps that might clog the drain.  I hate having to empty this slimy contraption when I wash the dishes.

(Now, for those of you who eased up in your seats to get a better view of a tidbit of juicy gossip, you may settle back into your comfortable position.)

A scrap strainer placed over the sink drain is designed to keep particles from flowing through the pipes and eventually building up into a clog. The captured food appears disgusting. But I can tell you from experience, the prevention is far less gross than a repair.

When it comes to our communication with others and about others, how many times would a strainer prove abundantly useful for our mouths, our ears, our eyes, and our fingertips.

If only we could purchase an inexpensive screen to filter our communication before we pass it on to another person.  If only we could buy a wire mesh which would prevent scrap-like communication from entering our minds. If such a device existed, it would majorly decrease our troubles. And it would amaze us just how disgusting the messages we often send and receive truly are.

But we can’t purchase such a device.

All we can do is work toward being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. (James1:19).  When we realize that the things we say directly reflect the condition our hearts, then we may become more careful about what we send and receive. (Matthew 12:34-37). Being unable to restrain our communication renders our religion null and void. (James1:26).

May we ever strive to make our communication gracious, perfectly seasoned with the salt of Christlikeness. (Colossians 4:6).

(P.S. I received my wife’s permission to publish this as long as I included a disclaimer that I would not have to deal with a gross strainer if I would install a garbage disposal. But that’s another story completely.)

 

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