What Really Happens At Family Christian Stores?

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If you’ve been following my blog you would know that I have been in a job search for almost 8 months. Until God reveals what he has planned for the next chapter of my career life,  I decided to take some of the financial burden off of my husband and get a part-time job. Not only to get out of the house, but to have a little income to buy gas, groceries and this year’s supply of girl scout cookies. Who can turn those little peddlers down?

I decided to apply for a part-time position my local Family Christian Store in Appleton, WI. They hired me despite the disclaimer that I was an active job seeker and was unsure if this would be a two week or two year commitment. They were also willing to uphold my uncompromising rule that I would NOT work Sundays. As a compromise, I agreed to help during the holiday season; “If” I was still there next year.

Much to my surprise, this store is so much more than a retail store; it’s a mission field, which is the exact reason why I want to write about my brief 3 month employment before the store closes in April 2017 and petition for the body of Christ to rally and invest to save your local Christian Gift Stores across the country. Please read on…

There has not been a day on the job that I haven’t cried. My first day, first DAY, a homeless man named Mark walked in our doors. Mark was shivering from the cold January air and humbly asked, “May I just sit here [on the folding chair that we had next to our imprint station] to warm my hands and toes?” He continues, “I missed the bus twice, it never even stopped and I need to get to the warming shelter before 5:00 PM ‘cuz if I don’t they will close the doors and I have nowhere to go tonight.” I tried to explain to Mark that he was close, really close, and if he would just go out our back door and take the street located behind us and he would be there – it would be a shortcut. He started to cry, “Ma’am, I’m not from here, I’m not sure where it is exactly.” Honestly, neither did I and I didn’t even know if the route I was recommending would actually take him there. A 4:15PM I called a cab. After paying the fee for the short 4 block delivery I realized that more than half of my earnings from my four hour shift would not only afford him a hot meal and a warm bed, but I could sleep that night knowing he would be okay (at least that night.) As if that wasn’t enough, while we waited for the cab to arrive, my associate gave him a bible (which I assume she paid for out of her pocket) and then she proceeded to pray with him. As I watched with amazement, I observed this dirty, scruffy, humble man sobbing and through his tears proclaiming, “I love Jesus, I love Jesus! Thank you!”

With each passing week more stories gripped my heart. Me, the unemployed corporate professional finds herself deleting job notifications, anxiously anticipating my next opportunity to serve the next broken heart that God would bring through those doors. A gambling addicted woman, a mom searching for the perfect gift to bring encouragement to her daughter who just delivered a stillborn baby. A father who tearfully searches for a book to encourage his wayward son, the mom who is seeking comfort from just learning her daughter has been sexually assaulted by her husband, she pleads, “I need her to be OK, she shutdown, I need to give her something that can help her.” A former convicted felon who found Jesus during his incarceration eagerly seeking a Christian CD by Zach Williams, “Chain Breaker” to play for the inmates he teaches in the local Jail Ministry. I will never listen to that song without thinking of him.

I prayed with women, emphasis WOMEN, with cancer and widows in their loneliness. I hugged veterans and prayed with numerous broken soldiers who suffering from PTSD and countless patrons who have been physically disabled from war, car accidents and workplace incidents. I fielded countless inquires in search of help for a prodigal son/daughter, a suicidal teenager, a rebellious teenager and an unfaithful spouse. People seeking how to face the hurt of an unequally yoked marriage, an emotionally abusive relationship and pornographic, alcoholic, drug addicted and eating disorder strongholds.

So here is my request:

Church – Wake up! I know you are a hospital for the broken, but your local Christian Store is the emergency room. Some of you have outreach ministries in food pantries, coffee shops and thrift stores, but seriously… when you have people who don’t even know what versions of the bible are and yet come to buy a bible because they want to start reading it is not your ordinary day in ministry!

Pastors – STOP COMPETING! I’m sure you have some statistics to measure your success whether it’s weekly attendance, percentage of giving or hearts surrendered to Christ, but we are the body! In the words of Casting Crowns,Why is His love not showing them there is a way?” Churches don’t have an open sign that welcomes people in. I know you welcome people on Sunday’s and I have referred many people and have coached them to muster up the courage to walk through your doors. We can be partners, we can be friends.

Christ Followers – Some of you really get it. You stop in for your greeting cards with scripture printed in it, buy those great theological reference materials, you buy the Jesus paraphernalia and home decor; you are an amazing witness to God’s redeeming power. But even Matthew 25: 40 says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Please consider what you can do if you fund, start up or contribute to your local bookstore? It’s missionary giving and if you are all up on current events you would know that there is no greater mission field than the United States of America today.

This world does not have a shortage of pain, nor does it have shortage of aggressive online competition, but if there is one brick and mortar store that I think we need to fight for it’s the local Christian store. At a minimum, please pray and if someone finds the passion to open a store or keep one open, will you please respond? This is an urgent request and I have a feeling that Appleton, Wisconsin isn’t the only store that has witnessed the great need.

I thought about creating a Go Fund Me Page because I hope that you will be so moved, but that feels self-serving to me. Instead, if you are in a community where a local Family Christian is closing, will you please unite. Your community, your churches and successful business leaders can do it! There is a local manager and employees that would be honored to serve you. We don’t do it for the money, Lord knows Family Christian significantly underpaid. We do it for the people, the lost, the broken, confused and hurting!

The last thing I can say is fight. The employees are going to be without jobs or already are. The Family Christian chain has already sold out to a liquidation store and the days are numbered. The time to act is now.

My favorite scene from watching Little House on the Prairie was when the whole church got up and marched singing,

“Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ, the royal master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle
See his banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.”

 

To The God Girls In My Life

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Sing it with me, “We are family, I got all my sisters with me.” I’ll spare you the rest because I have no intentions of making this about Sister Sledge or worse, getting this catchy lyric stuck in your head. However, I do wish to recognize that today was a day that I particularly appreciated having my sister’s in Christ alongside of me and for those of you reading this, I want to remind you of what a beautiful gift God has given to us in our godly girlfriends; read on…

The best part about a life surrendered to Christ is that God gives us this amazing peace and if we keep our eyes on Christ, it is truly amazing how it can seem as if our world is falling apart, but there is still the assurance that God is sovereign over it all.

I say “if we keep your eyes on Christ” because it is so easy to take our eyes off of Christ as the apostle Peter shows us in Matthew 14, Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Are you getting this? The dude was walking on water, but when his eyes started to look around at his circumstances, he sank!

In truth, that was me this morning. I was having one of those heart-to-heart’s with God on my morning commute. I started out pretty well, but instead of telling God all the things that I am thankful for and focusing on all the blessings that are so overwhelmingly evident in my life, I adopted the “wandering in the desert like an complaining Israelite” attitude instead, and starting whining about “stuff.” By the time I got to my first meeting, my attitude changed from gratitude and joy, to discontentment and discouragement. Of course I walked into my meeting imposing all of my woe’s onto the first set of ears that could hear. “Oh wretched man that I am”, to quote the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24.

Fortunately, my meeting was a group of strong, God-loving women and they could tell I was metaphorically drowning and guest what they did? They prayed! Not only did they pray, but they prayed in a way that helped me get re-centered on truth and put my head back on straight. It is so beautiful to have that kind of acceptance, support, love, encouragement and concern without judgement and rejection.

Solid, Godly, Christian friends are like medicine to the soul. Thank you Sonia, Trish and Heidi for being there and putting my eyes back on God where they needed to be.

 

 

 

Have You Hit Your Bottom?

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Luke 22:31, 34

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”  But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

Last Friday was President Trump’s inauguration and the Green Bay Packers were painfully defeated by the Atlanta Falcons. I have Facebook friends who are outspokenly passionate about both of these things and by 4PM CST yesterday, I had had enough. The political division is exhausting and I, personally, needed to to accept the fate that my dear Green Bay Packers were unlikely to recover from their grave deficit, hence, not going to advance to the Super Bowl. So I decided to lace up and go for a 3 mile run to take in some fresh country air and clear my mind.

As I exited the house I turned to my favorite phone app and found a message from Dr. Tony Evans titled, “Your Experience and Your Destiny.” The title caught my eye and my hope was that it would bring a perspective to my arduous job search and boy did it ever!

Dr. Evan’s was sharing from Luke 22:31-34 and I never saw this perspective before. Jesus says that Satan asked if he could sift Peter like wheat and Jesus plead in prayer for him… He didn’t plea that he wouldn’t fail, because he [Peter] did actually fail by denying Jesus before the rooster crowed for the third time just as Jesus predicted. Instead, what Jesus was praying for was that Peter’s FAITH wouldn’t fail. Now that’s powerful stuff!

This message spoke to me because I ended up jobless as a result of “failing” a series of qualification exams. I saw a parallel to my own life in this passage, as God’s Word often does. Dr. Evan’s goes on to say, “Jesus will let you fail so you understand that you’re not all that, because you think you’re all that, and once you see that you’re not all that, you’re going to repent, because now you have come face-to-face with you, and once you repent then God can use you. One of the reasons that we can’t find our destiny yet, is either we haven’t repented yet or we haven’t hit bottom yet. As long as we walk with pride God can’t use us.”

Boom! This hit me between the eyes. Could God have let me fail because I was (and am) holding on to pride? Humbly, I believe the answer is yes and I know because of it I am of no use to God; I am in my own way. So I’m faced with a decision… either I recognize this, repent and turn to God  – OR – God will let me hit bottom so I have no other place to go EXCEPT to Him.

You see, my faith hasn’t failed me. If anything it has grown stronger. My prayer life is powerful, disciplined and fully engaged. I am spending quality time in his word and am like a sponge taking in all of His promises. I know that he is with me and I have confidence that I will be better for having endured this. I do have a peace that surpasses all understanding and am taking each day one day at a time. I have been able to keep a healthy perspective on my blessings and all that this jobless season is given me the ability to enjoy. But… here is where the devil is alive and active… I find myself praying for a certain type of job, a certain income and a certain title. Instead of praying that He use me, wherever and however he needs me.

My pride is afraid of what people will think. My pride is telling me that I have a master’s degree and shouldn’t settle for just any old job. My pride is telling me that I shouldn’t go backwards on my resume.  Dr. Evan’s said that God gave me gifts and He made me to use those gifts to benefit others, glorify God and impact his kingdom. If they are not doing that, it’s not a destiny, it’s a job and if I am not where God can use me I will never be fulfilled.

As a result of this message, a long run and some soul searching, I have since apologized to God and I am going to remain open to where he is leading me. What is most exciting about this is the anticipation of finding out what He has in mind.

Stay tuned!

P.S. Thank you Dr. Tony Evans!

 

Perspective

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Over the past year my life has been taken a detour. I started the year with a great job, in a great company and thought I had a promising future. As I begin the new year I am filled with hope of finding a new job and am wrestling with that mid-life question, “What am I going to be when I grow up?”

I thought I had it figured out, but HA! God obviously has a better idea. He just hasn’t clued me in on what that is yet.

If you are a student of God’s Word you know about detours. One of my favorite characters and stories, is Joseph’s. The poor guy was sold to be a slave by his brothers, was falsely accused of raping Potiphar’s wife, was then thrown in prison, then forgotten (for two years) and when he was finally remembered, he was summoned because Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dream and FINALLY he is  promoted and put in charge of Egypt. Talk about the most ironic turn of events and most unexpected outcome…  that’s not even the end of the story. Unbelievable!

There are many stories in the bible that prove that life is unpredictable and the best part is… they bring us hope in our circumstances. God also gives us confidence that He will make all things work for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

But here’s the thing, detours take us down roads we otherwise would not travel. Especially in our fast-paced world when our google maps (career, relationships, fast-food etc…) take us on the fastest route from point A to point B; we miss out on so much.

A couple weeks ago, my daughter and I found ourselves on a literal detour. We had the opportunity to see things we never would have otherwise seen. We also learned that it may have taken us longer to get to our destination, but we got to enjoy more time in the car enjoying conversation.

I’m not sure where this journey will take me and I’m not sure how long it will take before I see God’s plan revealed, but I am so grateful to have been given this time. Time with my family and the dedicated time needed to train a new puppy in our home. With each passing week I am getting the opportunity to catch up with people that I miss and friends I have not been able to stay in touch with. Not to mention, the pleasure of having quality time in my bible and uninterrupted, focused prayer time. I get to sit and read books, schedule middle of the day work-outs and increase opportunities to volunteer in my community and church. I see blessings everywhere and every day. With that great job that I had a year ago, I was missing out. Missing out on some pretty neat things.

So if you are on a detour – be encouraged, not discouraged. God allows detours, He has a plan for it, He is in it  and He will most certainly be on the other side of it. It will not last forever and while your waiting, seek Him with all of your heart. It brings you peace that surpasses all understanding and is a gift to be embraced.

Holiday Havoc

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If you are ridden with anxiety as Christmas events begin, I want to point you to a convicting story and remind you (and me) of those heart cutting words of Jesus in Luke 10:42, “but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

In this scene Martha, Mary’s sister, is frantically stressing out over the preparations and there’s little Mary, distracted and sitting around at Jesus’ feet. Martha pipes up, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Allow me recite the voices in my head… [Insert whiny voice]… “How come you guys are sitting around watching that dumb football game when I’m stuck with all the cooking, cleaning, serving and garbage removal. How come for the past month I’m the one doing all the shopping, gift wrapping, tree decorating and cookie making?”

Yep, that’s me. Embarrassing isn’t it? I imagine God sitting on His mighty throne shaking His head. “Oh Sarah, when are you going to learn?”

So, just as God is God, he shows up in scripture at just the right time to remind me about what is important and how He wants me to conduct myself today and every day.  Which one of these verses speaks to you?

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jeremiah 4:18 ““Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!”

Galatians 6:4 “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Titus 1:16 “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”

So if you needed to hear this, as I did today, I hope that you and I will remember that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, God’s son. God did not send His son to increase our stress, turn us into nagging, selfish, crabby wives and mothers. On the contrary, He wants us to mimic the thoughts, words, actions and deeds of Jesus so we can bring glory to him today and be a blessing. Let’s pass this chaotic Christmas finish-line with joy in our hearts, love in our actions and kindness on our lips.

Failure Rocks!

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Okay, I’m being facetious. Failure sucks! It makes you question a lot of stuff. “Am I stupid?”, “Is this REALLY what I’m supposed to be doing?”, “If not this then what?”

It overwhelms you with self-doubt. SELF-doubt. You not only start doubting yourself, your future, but your ability to be successful (at anything), but it draws up emotions – negative emotions – that otherwise wouldn’t have crossed your mind. Failing at something stops you dead in your tracks and spins you into a very unhappy place.  It begins with a pity party and if they devil can get a foothold, it will spiral into full fledged depression.

Why?

Why is really the question that we are seeking the answer to. “Why didn’t this work out the way I planned?”, “Why is this happening to me?”, “Why aren’t things going my way?”, “Why am I, I, I…?”  See the theme? At the center of MY failure (your failure) is something that didn’t go MY (your) way and according to MY (your) plan. Conclusion: Pride was/is the driver.

Does Philippians 2:3 NOT say, “Do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit?” God sure has a way with cutting to the heart of it, doesn’t he?

So, here are the real questions that we need to be asking ourselves when we fail. 1 – What is God trying to teach me in this/What have I learned? and 2 – How might I realign my thinking (aspirations, plans, expectations…) to what God wants for me? How can I, do I, should I respond in a God-like way to this unplanned, unforeseen circumstance?

There is so much learning and character development that results from failure when we ponder and pray over these questions and get re-centered on God and His will, His plans and His desire for my life.

When this happens, the second part of Philippians 2:3 comes to the forefront, “but in humility, value others above yourself.” Humility – the exact OPPOSITE of pride.

Here is the takeaway in times of temporary setbacks, unmet expectations, disappointments and trials: Romans 5:1-4: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Onward Christian soldier! It’s not about you [Me].

How To Pick Our Next President

Oval Office“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17 NIV

I passively listen to the news as I get ready for work and one of the daily topics appears to be who just announced their candidacy for the President of the United States in 2016. Every one of their nomination speeches tout, “I am proud to announce my candidacy for President of the United States.” Immediately followed by their prescription, “This is what America needs… my agenda.” This is great! We need to know who these people are and if they have the credentials to fulfill our nations top job, but they are mere humans declaring what they believe is best for an entire nation; that’s a bold decree which takes courage and confidence. I applaud them all, yet pause to question, “Whose agenda is best for us?”

Have you read 1 Samuel lately? I’m in chapter 13 where Saul gets his undies in a bundle because Samuel doesn’t show up at his said time and he decides to take matters into his own hands and disobeys God (and Samuel) by offering a sacrifice. We do that don’t we? We get anxious when God is not providing answers and take matters into our own hands. Instead of putting our faith in God and waiting on Him. We are prone to run to our religious rituals as if to speed up the process or control outcomes. Little do we know that God could be testing our obedience and patience; a tough place to be when our circumstances overwhelm us. Saul was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of the Philistines. The world is overwhelming right now, let’s not be prone to wander away from God and cling to the most enticing nomination speech.

We don’t need a leader rushes in and tries to “fix” things.  In Saul’s case, God gave the people a king because they were asking for it, yet the king (Saul) was more about himself than he was of God and for the people. If we evaluated our presidential nominee’s to discern who are the God fearing men and women that would certainly narrow the candidate pool.

As a follower of Christ, I want a follower of Christ to lead our nation. Each nominee brings an area of strength that will make them best in some areas, yet ALL have weaknesses. On the candid roster, we have a blend of strong business acumen, military and foreign affairs guru’s, medical and healthcare experts, tenured government officials who “get Government”, but we don’t have one that is best at everything. In a time when understanding the world and the enemies in it is critical, when healthcare is overwhelming – yet necessary – for reform, our government is corrupt, economy waffling and our national debt compiling… Who IS the best man or woman for the job?

Here’s my proclamation. If we chose a Godly candidate, God will use their strengths for our benefit and he will fill in the gaps where he or she lacks. We don’t need a King Saul in the office of President, we need a committed leader of faith. So evaluate carefully America. A Christian doesn’t come with a party label of Democrat or Republican, race or ethnicity, age, gender, net worth, education or social status. God can use them all if they are true believers.