Beware, Pastor

To my pastor friends:

Beware! If your end of year letter to your congregation is only about money, you are failing in your responsibility to your congregation. Yes, I know, the way we think about and handle money is a spiritual matter. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21) is, after all, what Jesus said. But, my heavens, when your end of year letter focuses only on money and the ways the members of your church can give, including estate planning, you will be hard pressed to convince me (and many of your members) you are genuinely encouraging them to finish the year well.

Encourage the sheep under your watch care to finish the year well by walking closer to Christ as they close the year. Encourage them to grow in humility and to consider others more significant than themselves in the next year (Phil 2:3). Encourage them to set their sights on doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). Encourage them to set a goal to hide God’s word in their hearts next year (Ps. 119:11). Encourage them to pray more and more fervently next year (Luke 22:40-46). Encourage them to see and delight in God’s majesty (Psalm 145:5). There are a myriad of ways you can encourage your congregation to finish the year well, without appearing to be money hungry.

While giving is important to the spiritual life of a Christian, ending the year with a finish the year well appeal to give money sets a false barometer before your people. Don’t give your people the false idea that giving to a year end campaign is the measure of their spiritual life or that they can make up for any spiritual shortcomings in the year by giving dollars at the end of the year.

I know none of my pastor friends would say they are doing what I just described. And I’m sure that is the case. Having said that, I encourage all my pastor friends to get a trusted friend who is not a pastor and give them permission to speak candidly about your communication, especially regarding year-end giving. What you are trying to communicate or think you are communicating may not be what your members are hearing.

DISCLAIMER: Due to the nature of my life and vocation, I have many pastor friends. The above comments are intended as a general exhortation and are not aimed at any specific pastor. But, if the shoe fits …

The Secret Shopper

Can you really get paid to eat at restaurants or is that an urban legend? “Yes, you can get paid to eat at restaurants. And, yes, it is an urban legend. What?”

Let me clarify. Being a secret shopper is much more than deciding on a Friday night to roll up to your favorite dining establishment and eat whatever you want for free in exchange for a thumbs up or down on your experience. That’s the urban legend part. The reality is much different. So, you are wondering, “Can I eat for free or not?” If you are hired as a secret shopper you can, but not necessarily at your favorite restaurant.

But, before telling you how the Secret Shopper system works, I should tell you what it is. Businesses of all types hire reviewers to present themselves as customers at the business to evaluate their employees and/or the product being offered by that business. In other words, the business wants a targeted customer review.

Generally businesses do not hire secret shoppers directly. Shoppers are hired through an agency that recruits, vets, and assigns people to covertly visit the desired establishment. Sometimes, the shopper is directed to purchase a specific item. Alternatively, the shopper may simply be required to purchase anything. In either case, the purchase is made with the intention of returning the item at a later date.

While agencies may distribute assignments slightly differently, the general process is as follows: Once a person is agency-approved to be a secret shopper, he/she is given access to shopping opportunities. I’ve been offered opportunities at restaurants, different types of retailers (e.g., electronics stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores), and especially car dealerships. The shopper selects opportunities of interest, then requests the assignment.

The shopping assignment may be for a specific day or time of day, and must be completed within a specific time frame. So again, being a secret shopper often requires more than a spur of the moment, “Hey, let’s go shopping!” It takes planning … and stealth.

It seemed to me, that most of the restaurant opportunities were specifically targeting alcohol service, so that excluded me. The auto dealerships offered opportunities to “shop” for a vehicle or to use the service center. The latter seemed to be the most lucrative offer since the shopper would get a shopping fee and receive a free oil change and service. However, getting those opportunities required having a specific make and model of car, which I never had. Shopping for a car was challenging because I had to keep my cover story together. Since the business requires the shopper to be completely secret, nothing can be said that would give any indication that this is a hired shopping experience. Also, I felt bad taking up the sales agent’s time, giving him the impression that I was really interested in a car all the while knowing that I was not going to purchase anything. I was simply going to write a report about his presentation, knowledge, and demeanor.

In order to get paid, the shopper must not only complete the shopping assignment, but also must complete the report correctly and on time. Reporting is where I lost interest because not only are the reports very detailed, they are time consuming due to the number and type of questions (think final exam with essay questions!). Additionally, the formatting was critical. So much so that I almost lost a fee because I stapled the business’ card on the right side of the report rather than the left.

In the end, I realized that completing the shopping and reporting meant I was earning at or just below minimum wage. So, while I enjoyed the experience, I quickly realized that secret shopping was not what I thought it would be, nor was it worthwhile for me.

Why can’t it be easier to get a free meal?

The System is Broke, Ya’ll!

Congress just passed the Covid-19 “stimulus” package. Without digging deep, a fair observer can say there are several things wrong with this measure AND the way it was produced. In fact, it seems to me that a thinking person would be disgusted by the whole episode, particularly the way this legislation is filled with pork. “Wait!,” you say, “the Covid-19 Stimilus portion doesn’t have pork, it’s the other part that is stapled to the Coronavirus Stimulus that has the pork.” Attaching a relief bill to the annual funding bill automatically tells the thinking person that something is wrong! Now to be fair, the pork isn’t unusual, especially in such OMNI-bills, but given the current circumstances (Covid and all the related problems) the American public should run congress out of town with pitchforks!

“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it.”

President Trump commenting on the Covid-19 stimulus

Remember, this stimulus money comes from you, the American taxpayers. Though many of our esteemed members of congress act as if they are the benevolent ones, in reality they are playing each of us for fools. They demand we give them money in the form of taxes (some are even demanding an increase in taxes!), then act as if we are supposed to be excited and thankful and indebted to them because they are so generous to give us some of our money back. Less the handling fees, of course! Remember, government doesn’t actually create money, the only money government has is what they take from us, borrow from other governments, or fraudulently print on the treasury’s printing presses, which devalues our currency via inflation.

If this this bill is emergency relief for the American people, then a few questions come to mind.

  1. Why was “relief” held up as a political weapon against the president? Even Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, have said that Nancy Pelosi held the “relief” up. This is akin to the fire department sitting outside your burning house waiting for you to commit to voting out the mayor who will not sign off on an increase in budget for their department. And then expecting the homeowner to cheer them as they walk away from the burning embers that were once your house. Unconscionable!

    Did congress miss any paychecks while many Americans were out of work and waiting for relief in the form of such a stimulus or allowing the economy to reopen where possible? NO, they didn’t miss a paycheck! If you did, you should be looking for a pitchfork!

  2. Why is this not a clean, single item bill, that provides relief for the American people? President Trump asked for that, saying he was ready to sign a clean bill that provided $1200 rather than the $600 provided in this catastrophe. At first glance, I’m not objecting to extending unemployment benefits or assistance to small businesses. Actual Covid-related relief. What I’m thinking of are things like the attachment that came with it, making the bill more than 5,000 pages and over $2 TRILLION! Do you realize that the additional, non-Covid related spending, was more than the Covid relief portion of the bill?

    In other words, our esteemed political betters borrowed over $2 TRILLION to, in turn, give the American taxpayer less than half of that money in relief. Unconscionable! Don’t worry, our kids, grand kids, and great grand kids will get the bill. That is assuming the republic doesn’t collapse, and simply dissolve, under the weight of this type of spending.

Want to hear another crazy detail? The almost 5,600 page bill was delivered at 2PM with the message that members should be ready to vote in 2 hours. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, evaluated the process by saying, “This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.” In a similar vein, Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, Tweeted, “It’s ABSURD to have a $2.5 trillion spending bill negotiated in secret and then—hours later—demand an up-or-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read.” The system is broke, ya’ll!

I’m anxious to hear my two senators, Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, explain to their constituents why they voted for this package. Unfortunately only 6 senators had enough sense and courage to say no to the boondoggle. It’s time for the American people to get their pitchforks and get a refresh on our representatives. If it’s not already too late, there is precious little time remaining.

Proverbs 22:10

“Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,

    and quarreling and abuse will cease.”

Proverbs 22:10 ESV

This proverb is as straightforward as they get. If you understand the word scoffer, everything else follows. To scoff is to speak derisively or to mock something or someone. Thus, get rid of the one who mocks and things will calm down.

A word to the mocker: Be careful that mocking does not become your character. The journey is very short between being disenchanted with one thing to being disenchanted with everything. If your response to a single dissatisfaction is to scoff at that person with whom you disagree, very frequently, that becomes your modus operandi with all people (or situations). Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.” In this case, scorn or derision is like leaven.

The apostle Paul offers a dire warning to those whose character is one of what he calls “works of the flesh.” In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul’s list includes, among other things, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions. These particular “works of the flesh” are the kinds of things that surround the scoffer. What was Paul’s warning? “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The contrast that Paul offers, beginning in vs. 22, is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Lord, help me to see my tendencies to scorn those with whom I disagree. Then, help me fight against that tendency, guarding my heart from scorn and derision. And rather than scorn and derision, may I bring forth fruit of the Spirit.

A Parable: The College Student

And he spake many things to them in parables, saying, …

As he rode the bus to work each day, the young man scanned the car lots for the perfect car. He knew his life would be changed for the better if he could find the right car, so each day he scanned the car lots as the bus moved past them. Then it happened; one car caught his attention and he knew that car was the car he needed to get where he was going. He promised himself that he would get that car, and the next day he rang the bell, requesting the bus stop at the stop immediately in front of the car lot. Nervously, he descended the bus and approached the lot.

He knew he needed a car but now, he wasn’t sure if this was the right car. A salesman approached him as he circled the car, looking in the windows. “Want to look inside?” the salesman asked. “Sure,” came his nervous reply. “How does it run? Can I start it? Can I take it for a drive? What about a warranty? How many miles?” he nervously asked in rapid fire succession without giving the salesman a chance to answer. Finally, the salesman got a chance to reply, “Yes, yes, yes, yes and we’ll have to see the odometer. Let me get the keys.”

Buying this car was a big decision because the young man knew it would change his life. Sure, it would take some work to get it and keep it up, but whatever it took to get it would be worth it.

When the salesman returned with the keys, what the young man knew to be true was, in fact, proved to be true. It was the perfect car for him. He knew it would be, and it was!

After negotiating the price, which was not cheap, the young man agreed to the deal. “Let’s go inside and do the paperwork” the salesman said with a smile. Inside the office, the salesman began to gather a stack of papers that had to be completed in order to finalize the sale. As each document was pushed across the desk, the young man thought to himself, “This is silly. I don’t need to do all this stuff.” Once, he accidentally let his private thoughts slip out as he mumbled, “I don’t think I really need to do all this paperwork.” The salesman smiled a knowing smile and said, “I understand that it doesn’t make sense, but we’ve collected and organized the paperwork in a way that helps you get everything done, so that you can own the car. Trust me, I’ve done this a lot of times, and although it doesn’t make sense to you now, in the end, you will have the car you want.”

The young man haltingly went along with the salesman. He filled in most of the requested details … multiple times on multiple forms. He also signed most of the places marked by an X. He skipped some details here and there, since he knew those details couldn’t be that important. As the salesman looked over the papers, he noticed the deficiencies and asked the young man to correct those “oversights.” “Really?” the young man thought to himself. “This is getting overbearing; this stuff just isn’t necessary.” The salesman noticed how indignant the young man was becoming with each additional request. “If you haven’t ever done this before, I know it seems crazy, but believe me, every page of the paperwork is necessary … if you want the car.”

Almost finished, the salesman was required to explain in detail the terms of the loan, including the amount of the monthly payments, the due date for those payments, and the date of the final payment. On the 5th of each month, for the next 4 years, the loan required a payment of $427.38. “Sign here, accepting the terms of the loan, and we’re almost done” said the salesman. The young man scribbled his signature with the flair of a new car owner.

Then, the salesman said, “One more document. We need to complete the title transfer document so the car can be put in your name.” “Nah, I’m done. I’ve signed enough papers and I’ll make the payments on time” said the young man. With that he got up and  walked across the lot to the bus stop. He got on the next bus, paid his fare and went to work.

On the 5th day of each of the next 48 months, a check in the amount of $427.38 arrived at the bank. And five days a week for the next 40 years, the young man rode the bus past the car lot, remembering the car that he bought but never got.

For those with ears to hear, let them hear.

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