Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting my money's worth

There are moments in life when you just have to call "stupid" by its first name. Stupid. Capital "S." My friends, one of those moments is here. I seldom blog during the day. It's my midnight pastime. It's what I do when the house is quiet and I feel a surge of inspiration. And then there are other times ...

I was driving down good old Frank Scott Parkway a few minutes ago and an advertisement came on the radio for the lottery. Upon hearing it, it took a moment for the message to sink in. When it did red lights flashed and offensive sirens sounded in my formerly complacent brain. The message of this advertisement took me so by surprise that I cannot keep from sharing it. As I said it was a lottery sponsored commercial. Not sure which state. Could have been Illinois. Could have been Missouri. The airwaves draw no distinction where I live. If I stand on my roof I can see the St. Louis Arch. Use to be if I stood on my roof I could see some big tall nameless (to me) building in downtown Cleveland. Of course my roof in those days was 11 floors off the ground and I was only up there once. Doesn't matter. You could see it. You could also see the Canadian waters of Lake Erie. But I digress. Long ago if you stood on my roof you could see Sears Tower and numerous other buildings in downtown Chicago. That was a lifetime ago. None of these things have anything to do with why I am putting cyber-ink to cyber-paper. All that matters is that I heard a lottery commercial. It went something like this ..

"How would you like to have $1,000 per week for the rest of your life? That's what you'll get if you play and win (insert whacked lottery name here.) The game where the longer you live the more you earn!"

Really? I mean ... really?

"The longer you live the more you earn."

Have we gotten so dumb that we now need to point out to people that after they die they will no longer get a paycheck? And perhaps the bigger question, have we gotten so brainless that it has not occurred to us that after we die we no longer NEED a paycheck? Is this the very best that the ad agency that holds the lotteries account can come up with? If so, I have some suggestions. Maybe they will read my blog, use one of these, and I'll be a rich man. Well. Until I die and they stop paying me, of course.

"Play the lottery! If you win you'll be rich until you turn into dirt!"


"Play the lottery! If you win you'll be rich until you aren't anymore!" (Note: there are two ways you can take that and both are correct.)


"Play the lottery! If you win we'll pray you die soon so we can stop paying you!"


"Play the lottery! If you win watch your back because we'll be giving Vito your name and address and we'll keep paying you until Vito brings us your eyeballs in a jar!"


Never mind. I think you get the idea.

I've thought it over since hearing that commercial. I'm going to take a pass on their offer. But here's a little advertisement of my own ...

"Forget the lottery! Use your money to support the work of your church, keep missionaries on the field, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, sponsor a child at one of the two links below, and help researchers find cures to horrific diseases!" Maybe it's just me but I have a hunch I'm going to get a much great return on my dollar.

World Vision

Compassion International

Monday, April 18, 2011

Here's Mud In My Eye

I believe in God. I believe that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world "to seek and to save that which was lost." The phrase "that which was lost" refers to ... us. Without the forgiveness paid for by Jesus through His sacrificial death on the cross we are pretty much toast. But God loves. And God loves to forgive. And Gods love is directed at us. And God loves to forgive us. And that is a very good thing because it seems like we have a propensity to do wrong. That means we are in desperate need of forgiving.

Please allow me to tell you how that truth is working out in a very unexpected way.

When I moved to the St. Louis area from a foray into Cleveland, Ohio, it quickly became obvious that I would be needing to locate a new source of morning caffeine. I am not a coffee guy. I like my caffeine cold, sweet, opaque, and very fizzy. It's easier just to call it Coke or Pepsi. If it isn't coursing through my system by 11AM at the absolute latest I'm a wreck. After checking out a few options I settled on a little quick mart about half a mile from my office. The product was acceptable. But what really drew me to it was the people. While it's not a "mom and pop" place it was a big step down from the mega-chains like the ever present Moto-Mart or Quick-Trip. But I liked the people there. Nothing special about them. They are just people. The barely said "good morning" unless I said it first. But I began to go there on a regular basis and as I did so I did my best to engage them in conversation. That's what I do best. I talk. Eventually I met a young woman in her early to mid-20's. She was pregnant. She was not in a relationship with the father of the child anymore. She lived at home with her father. I remember feeling compassion for her. I began praying for her, asking God if He would allow me to build a relationship with her that might lead to her being introduced to this forgiver-of-sinners, Jesus. After nearly two years she and I have become friends. Yesterday she asked me to wait for her to finish with a customer so she could show me her latest photo's of her pride and joy son. I waited. He's a real head turner. A young man with a dashing smile for his 18 months of life. My young friend had asked me long ago what I do for a living. I told her that I pastor one of the churches around the corner but we had never really gotten beyond that. I honestly never felt God open the door for me to walk through it. I've wondered why. But I have learned that good things happen in God's timing or they don't happen at all.

And then today came along. My friends car was not parked in the lot when I pulled in. I was on the phone and I waited in the car until I completed my call before climbing out and walking toward the building. I had noticed the woman leaning against the building. She works at the store as well. Actually, she is the manager. She is about 60 years old and we have talked casually many times. Today she reached out and touched my arm as I walked by and asked if she could talk to me for a moment. I leaned against the building and told her that I had all of the time in the world. She looked away from me for a full minute. when she turned to face me again there were tears in her eyes.

"My husband has liver cancer. He's dying. He asked me if he could talk to a minister and you are the only one that I know. Do you think you could go and talk to him?"

My heart broke. It broke for her. It broke for him. It broke for my blindness. All of this time I thought that God was probably directing my attention to one person. It turns out that I was looking past one person to see another. I do not believe that Jesus would do that. I hope that I never do again.

I put my arm around her and asked her name. Nearly two years of seeing her 4 or 5 times each week and I didn't even know her name. I am very ashamed of that. She told me. And she told me her husbands name. I told her that I would consider it an honor to visit with her husband. I took out one of my business cards and wrote my cell phone number on it. I told her to tell him to use that number any time. 24/7. I am the only one who answers it. I will go to see and talk with him any time that he wants. Day or night. I told her how sorry that I am that he is sick. I explained how I lost my father to liver cancer 10 years ago and that I can feel a little bit of what she is feeling. She wiped the tears away and thanked me. I went into the store, got my daily "fix," and went back to her on the way to my car. I told her again how glad I was to be able to help her. I started to ask if I could pray with her there on the sidewalk but felt a definite sense in my own spirit that she was not ready for this step. So I passed ... for now.

This evening my cell phone rang. Her husband was calling. Tomorrow morning at 11:00AM I will go to his house and we will talk. And you know what the funny thing is? (Funny "strange," not funny "ha ha.") We are neighbors. We live off of the same highway less than a mile from each other.

And tonight I wonder ... how many of my neighbors are hurting? How many of them are hungry? Hungry for Jesus ... even if it isn't Jesus that they know they are hungry for? How many have I walked by without thinking twice ... without making eye contact ... without taking the time to get to know them. Two years. I suppose that God knew that it would take two years for this moment to come. It would take two years for both of them to be ready to talk. Maybe if I had tried earlier it would have ship wrecked everything. I don't really know. I just know this ...

I need Jesus to open my eyes. I need him to spit in the dirt like He did in the New Testament and rub the mud into my eyes and give me greater spiritual vision. I don't want to be blind anymore. I don't want to let one person in need walk by without their knowing that they are cherished by their creator and at least one member of the human race. God forgive me for the times I have done otherwise.