What Really Happens At Family Christian Stores?

GGBlog

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.”

 

Holiday Havoc

ggblog

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.

No Strings Attached

puppeteer

Today’s Devotion: Leviticus 8

Simon says, “Hop on one foot.” Simon says, “Touch your toes.” – Close your eyes! (Gotcha!)

Do you remember the game? It gets me every time. When I first came into a relationship with Christ at age 32, this is what I felt like my relationship with God looked like. Gods says, “Do not lie.” God says, “Do not steal.” God says, “Honor your Mother and Father.” God says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” – Read your bible every day! (Oops!) The worst part – as a sinner – I blew them all.

Rule bound; as if the human race is a bunch of puppets on a string. I couldn’t understand free will because I didn’t feel like I had any. I had this new found comprehension of what a horrible, sin-filled, undeserving human that I was/am and was clinging to the rules to protect me.

In Leviticus, God gave them very specific instructions and they had to obey every word. Why? They weren’t covered by the blood of Jesus. During Aaron’s ordination, they were not be worthy of being called a Priest until they were fully consecrated. Consecration isn’t a promise to go out as a missionary or to do something else for the Lord. Consecration means to come to the Lord with empty hands and ask, “Lord, what will You have me to do?” He does the filling! That is consecration.

As we now know, the rules won’t get us into heaven. It takes something much more intangible… belief and faith. I shared with my 9th graders in Sunday School on Sunday, the longest distance to heaven is the twelve inches between your head and your heart. The head represents rules. Rules that we learn, follow, practice and sweat over. Your heart is about belief, humility, confession, forgiveness (of yourself and others) and faith that God literally sent His one and only son and belief in Him so we can have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

The day I figured this out, I was a tear-filled blubbering mess. My whole life I lived under the rules and rituals of religion, but finally understood what it mean to be a Christian; a true believer. In turn, we receive a writ of passage into heaven. Aaron was appointed by God to be the one who could approach God and be given the ability to bless the Iraelities and present offerings to God.

I’m so glad that we can go directly to God and have a relationship with him with no strings attached. No priests, intercessors, animal sacrifices, rules, turbans, robes, and alters. What freedom we are given through Christ and because of this we live our lives in obedience, not because of the rules that He gave us to follow, but because of our hearts desire to honor Him with our lives for the sacrifice He made for us.

Bold With God

Stay Strong Believer!

Stay Strong Believer!

As our Godly Girlfriends study the bible one day at a time, one chapter at a time, I’m compelled to write one of my greatest take-a-ways from today’s reading in Genesis Chapter 18. It’s near the end the of the chapter that Abraham speaks to God and is very inquisitive. Are you inquisitive with God? I am. I find myself questioning why things are the way they are, what God is up too, and when God will act. Sometimes I inquire of him for selfish reasons because I have my own desired outcomes, but I have to say, especially when I am reading my bible, I have a lot of questions that start with what, when, and why.

Apparently, so does Abraham and he gets to ask God himself. This interaction is completely fascinating to me. In verses 23 Abraham approaches God and asks, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” The question puts me at the edge of my seat because I think of natural disasters or the more recent terrorist attacks where innocent lives are taken. God could prevent that. So here is a situation (the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) that Abraham is privy too and Abraham asks a legit question – a question I would ask.

Before getting too bold or assertive, Abraham then admits where he stands in rank to God, verse 27, “I am nothing but dust and ashes…,” and goes on to negotiate with God over how many God believers will spare amongst the majority of the wicked population. Abraham continues to be respectful as he continues to question God. “May the Lord not be angry…” or “Now that I have been so bold to speak to the Lord…,” and then the final request, “…but let me speak just once more.”

This just makes my heart pitter-patter. Abraham has a heart for the believers who live amongst the lost, the wicked. There are so many aspects of this passage that move me. I carry the burden on my heart as to how many friends I have who are unsaved and I do go to God and pray that He would draw them into a relationship with Him. But, like Abraham, I have a heart for the believers too. Those who are out there ‘fighting the good fight’ and remaining faithful in this world. If you who are reading this blog today are one of those being beaten down by the pressures of this world, feeling defeated or overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. I pray for you today. I lift you up to God, that he would (for your sake) not allow the world to destroy you. (Verse 32).

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”