Friday, November 24, 2017

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Timeshares

Gary and I stayed at a hotel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for four nights at a very good rate, plus we were offered a $150 gift card.

All we had to do was promise to sit through a two-hour presentation the second day of our vacation.

They didn't say "timeshare" during the phone call, but we knew that's what we were signing up for. 

Sure, we'll take a cheap vacation! We know how to say "no."

Now, I don't want to upset any readers who may have already purchased a timeshare. I imagine it may work for certain families who like to vacation in a certain way.

We are not one of those families. 

We wouldn't feel comfortable staying in a fancy resort like the one in Puerto Rico in my title graphic above. We like things a little simpler. We don't want to be locked into anything.

As I've pondered timeshares since our trip, I've thought about sharing our faith and how it might seem like a timeshare to some people.

Say a prayer and you get to go to heaven? Yeah, right! What aren't you telling me?

When we got to our presentation, we started out in a room full of about twenty people. The guy in front rattled off tons of information and explained why vacationing this way just made perfect sense. 

He showed pictures of beautiful resorts and explained how you could go practically anywhere and save so much money if you just owned so many "points" with their company.

When he got done, he turned us over to our personal representative. Our guy sat us down and asked if we had any questions. When we said we weren't interested, he said he understood but he still needed to show us the showrooms so he'd be doing his job well. 

We walked through the cabin, then the townhouse, and then the yurt. They were very nice, we had to admit. On the way back inside, we told him we still weren't interested. He said fine, but he needed to have his boss come and show us some other options before we finished.

Boss came, showed us two more options. We said we still weren't interested, signed a paper saying so, and then our representative led us to the desk to get our gift card and we were on our way back to our hotel. Whew! We made it out without caving in!

How much different it should be when we're sharing our faith with others.

First of all, we need to be honest. We share our lives with all of its ups and downs, showing how our faith in God helps us to keep going. We can't tell people that everything is going to be like staying a luxury resort with all of the amenities after they accept Christ. 

It's going to cost them something. Sometimes it will be financial costs, sometimes it will be emotional or relational costs. But it will all be worth it.

Next, we need to keep offering this relationship with Christ.

One of the things I noticed about the timeshare presentation was how many times they emphasized the fact that it was "today only." They are in real estate and they legally can't offer the incentives again later.

They created a sense of urgency. They wanted us to think, "Oh my gosh, this is a pretty good deal! I better sign up today or I won't get a chance again."

It's so different from the Gospel message. Of course, as Christians we feel the urgency of introducing people to Christ so that their eternal destiny is assured in heaven. It's important!

However, we don't have to pressure someone into accepting Christ. We trust the Holy Spirit to work in that person's heart until they are ready to surrender. We can share the Gospel and let them go home and think about it...praying that they will make that decision to "buy" when the time is right.

Finally, we always speak in love. Our timeshare reps were very nice, very understanding, and very low pressure. They told us about their company, showed us around, and smiled when we told them "no."

We've heard about companies that are not so nice. They make you stay for hours and hours as they try to convince you why you should buy their timeshare. They get downright rude.

Years ago, we sat through a presentation like that. We finally got away, but it left a very bad taste in our mouth for that company. I'm sure we would never consider them or recommend them to anyone.

We don't want to be like that with the Gospel message. We present it with love, especially to those we've already developed a relationship with. When people say no, we need to continue being kind and live out our faith in hopes that someday they'll change their minds. It does no good to beat people over the head with our Bibles. That would make them that much more skeptical and wary of those called "Christians."

So no, we don't own a timeshare...but we're looking forward to an absolutely beautiful final home.
"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!" (2 Corinthians 3:7-11 NIV)

Are you skeptical about offers that seem too good to be true? Do most people feel this way about the Gospel? How can focusing on God help you to share your faith in honest, low-pressure, loving ways?


Friday, November 17, 2017

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Secret Gardens

Gary and I are on vacation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. On Thursday I went to Parrot Mountain.
A Parrot Mountain can get tickets a little cheaper at their store at The Island in Pigeon Forge. It was a neat experience and the gardens really had lots of Bible verses and settings that were encouraging and inspirational.
I recommend it! 
Before you even get in, you can see large parrots squawking on their perches. The brochure promised the chance to see, touch, and feed all kinds of birds, plus enjoy beautiful gardens.

I walked along the pathways, talking to each bird I came to, hoping to get them to talk. I enjoyed looking at beautiful peacocks and interesting birds I had never seen before.

I got to one area with about a hundred birds you could pet and feed. I fed some small birds and then moved on to the big parrots and cockatoos. One of the staff was playing with a parrot named Mimi, so I put out my hand to offer it some seed. Wham! The bird grabbed my finger in its beak. 
Bad Mimi!

I pulled my hand back and the staff guy kind of laughed. "When she does that, you just have to do this," and he grabbed the parrot by the head and played with it some more.

Um, no thanks, I thought. I think I'll leave Mimi alone.

I moved on to other birds and then realized my finger was actually bleeding, so I went back to the staff guy and asked for a bandaid. He cheerfully got one for me.

I did find other very nice birds I could hold that didn't try to eat me. Some of them talked and they were so sweet.

I moved on and got to feed the lories some nectar.
That was really fun.

Before all of the bird interactions, I came to a door with no markings.
I cautiously pushed it open, sure some staff person would yell at me any second.  I was delighted to find a secret garden. There were mourning doves and other small birds moving around the small room full of green plants and decorations.

"Wow! I bet everyone else is missing this," I thought. "They walked right past it and I found it."

Then I saw another door. I went out and found this sign:
I felt pretty dumb.

I had missed the entrance and gone in the wrong way. It was a "Secret Garden" but it really wasn't supposed to be a secret. Everyone was meant to enjoy it. I should have been inviting others into the garden instead of being glad I had discovered it all by myself.

How often don't we do that with our faith? We marvel at what God has done for us, but we act like we don't really care to share it with others. We want to keep it all to ourselves.

Friends, we can't do that. 

Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. That is so much more awesome than a cute little hidden garden. We need to take that good news and tell it to as many people as we can.

Think of that in the days ahead, and if you ever go to Parrot Mountain, watch out for Mimi.

"He said to them, 'Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.'" (Mark 4:21-22 NIV)

Do you keep your faith to yourself, like a secret garden?How can focusing on God help you to tell others what Jesus did for you so they can enjoy life with Him, too?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Trying New Things

I tried something new today.

Gary and I went to a Chinese buffet, and they had a guy down at the end making sushi.

Now, I'd never tried sushi before. I was pretty nervous about it. Would it taste good? Would I get sick? What kind should I get?

I smiled over the sneeze guard at the sushi maker and told him it was my first time. I asked him what he recommended. He gave me a blank look and said just enough that I could tell he felt more comfortable speaking Chinese than my language.

I tried to explain again that I'd never had it before and asked what was in it.

He pointed to the different rolls and told me, "This, vegetable. This, crab. This, spicy tuna. This, ___." (I didn't get it, but I smiled and nodded)

I still wasn't too sure about trying it, so I kind of stepped back and let a woman go ahead of me with her empty plate.

As she started to dig in, I asked her if she'd had it before.

"Oh yeah, too much," she kind of laughed.

I told her I had never had sushi before and I wasn't sure what to get. "You've never gotten sick from it, have you?"

"No, it's good!" She explained what was in most of them and when she got through the line (I was still carefully picking what I wanted) she came back past me with some pink stuff on top of her sushi and explained that she liked to put ginger on top.

"I think you're really supposed to eat it after you're done, but I put it on mine 'cuz I have kind of a sweet tooth," she said.

Well, you all know about my sweet tooth, so I took a piece of ginger, too. I went back to my table, more confident after I had gotten advice from someone who went there all the time.

Turns out I really liked it. I went back from another piece later. I didn't care for the ginger very much, but it was interesting.

As I ate, I thought about how often I resist trying new things because I don't have someone to explain it to me and lead the way.

Then I went on to ponder how this could relate to sharing our faith.

Sometimes, people might be curious about our faith but they aren't really sure how to start. They might ask us about it, but when we respond with a bunch of "Christianese" they have no idea what we're talking about. 

Repentance, grace, born again, sanctification, justification, and other big words can leave them confused and frustrated.

We need to put it in words they understand. We need to share our experience with them so they can try it themselves and decide if it's for them, even if they don't embrace it exactly the way we do.

When you see someone hanging around uncertainly in the back of church before or after the worship service, talk to them and lead the way. Invite them to sit with you. Smile and greet them warmly. Answer any questions they have in plain English, not "Christianese." 

When you have a chance to share your faith at work, or school, or around it! Introduce someone to your Savior. Help them try something new.

Once they "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) they'll be back for more.

"...if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." (Isaiah 58:10 NIV)

Are you afraid to try something new? Have you ever tried something after a friend or relative led the way? How can focusing on God help you to be someone who feels comfortable introducing others to Jesus?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Terrific Tuesday: Let's Focus on Being Wise

Most of you know that I participate in NaNoWriMo in November. 

I started out strong on November 1 and wrote 1,824 words. I didn't have any story ideas before I started, but a bit of a plot developed as I wrote furiously that evening.

The next day, I had second thoughts. Gary suggested that maybe I could better spend the time working on some of the projects I already have started instead of doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Not do NaNoWriMo? But I've always done NaNo, I thought.

Still, I could see his point. I'm always whining about not having time to write...and then I'm going to spend well over fifty hours this month writing a story that probably won't turn into anything?

I got really sad thinking about not continuing this tradition, but I realized it would be wise to give it up and spend time this year on other things.

I have a very rough draft of a novel waiting to be worked on. I have a book on depression in the works. I procrastinated and have some other things to work on before the end of the year.

Yes, I decided, I'll have to give up NaNoWriMo. Too bad. 

I went to the computer and checked out my author info at the NaNoWriMo site. It said I had signed up about twelve years ago and it had stats going back to 2011.

2011: The Secretary...464 words (a pitiful attempt)
2012: No Answer...5639 words (I got a little more serious)

2013: My Title Will Come After About 20,000 Words...50,049! 
          (I can't even remember the plot of that one!)
2014: Clone Wars...50,037! (This one had lots of short stories in it)
2015: A Very Depressing Story...50,178!

I won three years in a row! And then:

2016: Gratitude...25,224

I hadn't even remembered that I hadn't won last year. I thought that I always had to win if I did it. Not true. I can still participate, and it's fun to win, but I don't have to win at all costs. This year, other things need my attention, too.

I want to be wise, and I'm learning that wisdom involves sacrifice.

Being wise might mean setting aside some activity we've always done so that we can do what needs to be done. 

Being wise might mean leaving the bag of candy corn at the store and picking up a bag of apples instead.

Being wise might mean turning off the TV and picking up our Bible.

Being wise definitely means looking to God to see what He has in mind for us. 

Some years it might be winning NaNoWriMo, but other years it might be finishing that other book.

I feel better tonight. I may not "win" NaNo this year, but I'll participate. I'll try to get my work done during this month and see if I can find some time once in a while to add to my word count.

I'll try to use my time wisely in the coming year so I can free up time next November to write those 50,000 words and win.

Until then, I'm sure I'll have lots of opportunities to make good choices and practice being wise.

"Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)

Do you make wise choices? How can focusing on God help you to let go of things you "have" to do and do what He has in mind for you instead?