Death of a Salesman


My first job out of college was in retail sales.  I hated it.  No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues.  As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare.  I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory.  Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top.  You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up.  He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.

It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit.  The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.

I found my niche in the workplace as a painter.  As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor.  With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat.  I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it!  This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.

While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.

That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this.  I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?

But miss I did.  I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus.  Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.

Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture.  Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.

Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try.  Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.

Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it.  With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.

I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason.  It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party.  Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing.  I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.

What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry.  To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it.  The practical application is simple, if not always easy.  The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room.  It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship.  Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.

In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.

What my Puppy is Teaching me about God’s Unconditional Love

I’ve been at this bible study/teaching/preaching for some time now.  I believe I am pretty well versed (pun intended) on the topic of God’s unconditional love.  Both Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of the Almighty’s undying desire to call broken and lost sinners back to Him.  When faced with the pain, suffering and confusion of those I have the privilege to minister to, I often extend God’s comfort through His promise to never leave or forsake us.  No matter how dark the moment or deep the pain, His love can give us hope when all seems lost.

I am amazed even as I look over the paragraph above.  I mean, how is it that God’s unconditional love can be offered to me? I have been a screw-up of major proportions, both in my life before I came to know Jesus as Savior and sometimes since then, too. Yet, I am assured of an unfailing love that calls me to eternal life; simply because it is His will to do so.  I know both in my heart and in an academic sense that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ has made this possible.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him!  His love is absolute and unconditional.  I cannot earn and certainly don’t deserve it, but it is extended to me (and all of us) without reservation.

Knowing in my ‘knower’ this to be true, I still find myself struggling with the application of it from time to time; especially in regard to showing the love of God to others.  Ministry is not complicated: Love God and be a conduit for His love to flow from me into others.  However, if I am being honest, there are more than a few times when I pass judgment rather than love.  I too often find myself being critical of others instead of offering grace.  The bottom line is this: In the day to day struggles and challenges of life, I do not always recognize or even look for God’s unconditional love in the world around me.

Thankfully, one event in my life this past week has more fully opened my eyes and my heart to God’s unconditional love.  It is through the puppy my wife and I brought home that I find myself more aware of and grateful for God’s continuous care of me.  ‘Violet’ has been a wonderful example of both giving and receiving love unconditionally over these last seven days.  With only a slight change, I am finding the old adage to be true: A new dog can teach an old dog new tricks!

It took Violet all of about two hours to become bonded with my wife and me.  With food served at regular intervals, plenty of walks outside to work on potty-training and lots of time on the floor playing with toys, we watched her love for us grow before our eyes.  Even when she was loudly reprimanded for getting into the modem wires, the love never left her.  Violet simply loves us, all the time.  The correlation to the love described in the Bible is clear: God loves us because He is love.  The Scriptures then tell us we can return love to Him: We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19).

Much as Betsy and I didn’t have to earn Violet’s love, God’s love should not be viewed as ‘a carrot on stick’ either.  I for one am so very glad for the way God loves us.  Far too many live under a dark cloud, realizing that their life’s choices are not necessarily right or healthy, and condemning themselves for it.  It becomes easy to believe the lie that you are not worthy of God’s love, and the self-loathing perpetuates.

The mis-conception so many are under is that God loves like we do.  We equate human, imperfect love with His holy and faultless love.  Because we see love through our human paradigm, our understanding of God’s love is skewed.  Our experience tells us that to love is often risky and many times downright painful.  Once broken, the human heart can never fully heal itself.  What a blessing that God’s heart doesn’t operate like ours!

His unconditional love is always there.  We here on earth are left to respond to it in one of two ways: We either joyfully accept His gift of love or we ignore it.  The first option is obviously my counsel.  When one can truly allow themselves to be loved by God, attitudes and outlooks change for the better.  Those things that used to consume us with worry can be seen in a clearer light.  Realizing God’s love gives us a new and better perspective on the events of life.  Ignoring or denying this heavenly love leads only downward, toward bitterness and despair.  Life lived outside of the Almighty’s love is ultimately futile.  There simply are not enough shiny things, money or fancy vacations that can fill the void that is in you.

If you are struggling with some facet of God’s love, might I suggest you too experience some ‘puppy love.’ No, I’m not saying go listen to Donnie and Marie Osmond’s song with that title.  Rather, allow yourself to simplify your understanding of what God’s love is.  That’s what Violet has been showing me and honestly, I have a greater grasp of, and deeper appreciation of how, God shows His love because of it.  Allowing yourself to accept God’s love isn’t always easy, but it need not be complicated.  Remember He loves you first and always, no matter what.  Your job is to respond to that love.  I’ve got to stop for now, someone needs to go outside!