100% Satisfaction Guaranteed. Or, Your Money Back.

Not that long ago I was having lunch with some friends at a well-known chain restaurant.  Now, let it be known that I don’t frequent chain restaurants for many reasons.  However, if I could only give one reason it would be out of a fear for an overall lack of quality.  See, simple economics will dictate that often times quality is compromised for quantity.  The more one produces something, the less time they have to spend on each single item.  I understand there’s always an exception to the rule, and given into that understanding I decided to give this particular chain the benefit of the doubt.

The setting was pleasing, and the conversation was even better.  However, when my food arrived (nothing too complicated, bear in mind), I found the plastic lid to a disposable container IN my sandwich!  Go figure, my luck!
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I did, however, learn a few things from this obvious oversight:

At least I know my sandwich was portioned properly.  There is NO CHANCE this restaurant will lose money on over applying guacamole, or any other condiment for that matter.
I also became aware of the date the topping was set aside to be used.  And, much like the date on the milk carton gives you a sense of confidence, knowing that someone chopped up my jalepenos a few days ago gave me a sense of “fresh.”  Maybe.
While the intention was to control the quality of the food with a pre-portioned measurement to ensure consistency, the obvious oversight of the plastic material overruled my would-be satisfaction.  That would be called an “epic fail.”

Now, the restaurant’s response?  Well, unsurprisingly, they offered me a new one!

A new one.  As if I would like another pre-portioned, plastic-infused sandwich!  Ok, sure.  That’ll make me happy.  Actually, it won’t, but I don’t want to be seen as “that-guy” in the public setting.

As consumerists, we’ve become so accustomed to getting things right, or it’s free it’s almost maddening.  No, seriously.  Think about it.  Are we not allowed to make mistakes anymore?

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How many signs do we read at cash registers now offering to make things right?  If I don’t get my receipt, my meal is free?  If I wasn’t happy, management will offer me a new one, PLUS a discount, PLUS a coupon for next time!?  These promises eliminate the opportunity for ANY customization, whatsoever!

For many years I’ve served the public hand-crafted cocktails.  Yes, that’s a fancy way of saying “bartender.”  And, it is also the truth, because as the industry started to take a turn from a free-pouring craft into a portioned, inventoried, quality-controlled systematic flow I became less interested.  In reality, restaurants would prefer robots behind bars, accurately portioning all their liquids, and topping each drink with the precise amount of garnish over having one who puts thought, creativity, time and personality into the taste, appearance and unique quality of a drink.

From our food, to our automobiles.  Our homes, to our phones.  We demand quality, and expect nothing less than perfect.  One blemish and we immediately want a refund, discount, rebate or replacement.  I’m serious.  For awhile I worked as a salesman at a new car lot.  It wasn’t uncommon for a new car shopper to investigate the car for any scratch in order to get some type of discount!

“OUR MARRIAGES ARE UNDER ATTACK!”
Attack!  As in, there is a pre-meditated ploy out to get you married folk!  I’ve heard it pitched a thousand times.  And, mostly while sitting in church.  Many times preachers, pastors, and advocates will use this type of fear-mongering to defend traditional marriage and, therefore, advocate a stance against gay-marriage.  Many times, too, the argument is built under the assumption like this is something new.  As if “only in America” do we allow things like this.  Or, the pulpit vocalist will pump out statistics inspiring us to think that somehow moral-decay is becoming an epidemic, as if it was never an issue “back in the good ol’ days.”

Here’s the truth:

Marriage found its first oppressor right after its creation.  Yes.  Satan attacked God’s very first union of two.  We know the story, you know, with the apple.  Or, was it an orange?  Regardless, that age-old story of Adam abandoning his wife, Eve, therefore, subjecting her to the temptations of the Great Deceiver.  This, friends, was the very first attack on the sanctity marriage.  And, guess what, statistically back in those old days, Satan attacked 100% of marriages, and, sure enough, he won that battle.

So, in a sense, nothing has changed.  Satan still attacks.  However, he’s sharpened his tools.  Today, he uses even more clever devices, like the one I’ve begun illustrating: an expectation of quality.

As pointed out, we demand quality.  When something is broke, we just get a new one.  I’m amazed at how many people I know drive a brand new car.  When I see on facebook the flashy pictures titled, “my new ride,” part of myself cringes.  I think, “oh boy, I hope they can hold on to the payments.”  What’s even more nerve-racking is typically I find these people on a restless mission to always “upgrade” their devices.  It’s not a good thing to become so obsessed with quality.  Here’s the problem it may present:

If we have a high-quality car that carries us to the best gym in town and, afterwards, we purchase only the finest brewed coffee (or, latte) then return to our climate-controlled castle so we can relax, briefly, under our precision-tuned shower-head before carefully applying only the most pure cosmetics so we can endure our plush work environment, using the latest in technology and communication, then when things begin to go wrong in our marriage what’s our first response?  I WANT A NEW ONE!

I want a newer model!  One that whines less, and is adjusted perfectly.  I want less consumption, and more options!  I want to not have to deal with all the WORK associated with this old piece of JUNK.  I’M WORTH MORE THAN THIS!

The reality is, the more we pursue comfort, precision, and perfection in our lives, the less inclined we are to actually FIX that which may not need much fixing at all.

Satan has, once again, manipulated the simple truth of love, and layered it with conditions, complications, qualities, and, therefore, inspiring us to shift our focus from the finesse to the flaw.

Perhaps a quick reading of God’s Word would have us understand that we are all imperfect and all in dire need of a Savior.  And, it is only He who can make all things new.  (Truth)

How?  Cling to Him.  Attach yourself to Jesus, and allow Him to manage the discomforts, the imperfections, and even the impurities.  I promise, you will be amazed at the work He does–not in the stuff that bother you, but rather, in you.

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Victory. From the starting line.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In John’s record of the Gospel, we find the above quoted to Jesus, himself (see: John 16:33). Now, for me, this is an incredibly strong verse. Imagine, not only is Jesus — God incarnate — talking, but He’s reassuring us that He’s already overcome everything the world can throw!

I’m thinking of that epic moment in Rocky IV where the Russian boxer, Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa are in the middle of the ring

Scene from Rocky 4

“I will break you!”

acknowledging the rules of the event. They go to touch gloves and Ivan, in his massive, broken-English voice mutters, “I will break you.”

Bam!

At that point in the movie, I recall really fearing the fight for Rocky.

Now, consider for a moment, the amount of confidence in the Russian. He’s so sure he’s going to win the fight, even to the point of “BREAKING” his opponent. It’s just not enough to win, but to CRUSH the opposition.

Not that I’d encourage anyone to adopt a broken-English-egocentric-Russian voice while they read the red letters in the book of John, but I can’t help but revere a sense of ultimate, infinite, authority when I hear Jesus say, “I’ve overcome the world!”

In my life, at the time of writing this blog entry, (which, by the way, I do apologize for so much time in between entries, but as you’ll become aware of, I’ve been very busy over the past several months!), I’m just five days away from taking my state exam for the Montana Real Estate Sales License. Now, for most, Real Estate is a career that doesn’t immediately demand much adoration for. Sure, we all appreciate a helpful Realtor, but if we were told of the complexities and intensities of the study we’d be quite shocked. Well, I was! This has been no small task! The amount of information that is expected of an agent is baffling! But, I was informed recently by a friend who’s been a Realtor for over a decade, “the buck stops with you.” Meaning, as an agent, you become accountable for everything: titles, property, home conditions, even the market expectations. Ergot, the massive study, of all the aforementioned.

Now, when Jesus comforted His disciples (really, those who were chosen to follow Him) — and, I put that in parenthesis to take a break in thought, because I’d like you to think about where you stand with Jesus; are you on His side? Have you been chosen? Do you call yourself a Christian? If so, then pay attention.

Ok, back on track. When Jesus informed His disciples that they didn’t need to fear, but instead be in awe of the Mighty Conqueror, He meant exactly that! See, it is that simple–if you’ve thought otherwise, then perhaps your idea of “Christianity” is a bit too complicated.

Jesus says, “don’t worry.”

“But, Lord, this is a big test! I mean everything is riding on this!”

“I’ve already overcome that test, Justin. Don’t worry.”

And, see, at that point, it’s done. Because He has. Overcome. It’s all good.

Now, what are the advantages of surrendering fear? Well, for starters, the time that I planned on spending on worrying about the test, I’m going to spend studying for it. Yes, more time right there! Remember, even the most successful person in the world still only had 24-hours in a day to work at it. I’ve got to continually remind myself, I am just a man, and therefore, just as capable as any man!

Secondly, with the time I would have spent worrying directed toward studying, (and, literally, not having any time to worry anyway), then I’m more focused on doing what I should be: studying (just to purposely sound redundant).

But, really, it’s not only MORE study, but it’s FOCUSED study. And, that is a MUCH better start!

And, finally, I need to remind myself that if I commit myself to the Lord in all that I do, then the outcome is totally His. (Proverbs 16:3–obviously, a little paraphrased). His outcome. Not mine. See, it pulls the rug out from the opposition. They have nothing to stand on. There is beauty in abandoning fears.

Know this, God has the BEST in mind for you. He’s not wanting you to enter into a state of total humility that you forget who you are and what you want to, and can, accomplish. No, He’s merely asking you to cast your fears upon Him, so you can CARRY ON WITH THE BEST OF YOU! It’s a win-win situation. You win because He wins in you!

I mention all this even before I go to take the test for this reason: accountability. It’s one thing to talk it, another to walk it. So, I’ll publish this days before the exam. Study hard. Prayer even harder. And, move forward with God’s desire in sight. If I were to fail the test, it’ll hurt, yes. Because, in my finite mind I’ll wonder why. Or better yet, whatwhat, now? However, good thing my HOPE is not in my finite mind! Good thing my HOPE is in the LORD!

It’s like you’ve prepared for the foot race of your lifetime. You’ve exercised diligently, every day. For many hours. You’ve eaten everything you can possibly eat to give you that extra muscle and energy. You’ve even purchased the really nice shoes-and, I’m talking about those ones with the highlighted springs on the bottom! You show up for the race to find others who seem just as prepared, and possibly even hungrier for victory. In fact, they have even brighter shocks under their rubber soles. (Dang it!) And, as you grab your spot on the starting line your phone vibrates. Well, first of all, you should probably ditch the phone! You know, wind resistance! But, curiosity gets the best of you and you read the text. It’s from God:

Hey, don’t worry. I’ve already conquered this race. Smile!

God. Thank you, for taking my burden!

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.

(Psalm 62:5)

Now Go Tell At Least Three People

In my early twenties, I decided I’d try one of those “pyramid-deals.”  You know, one of those “this isn’t a get rich quick scheme, this is the real deal.”  Or, this one’s better, “I started as a stay-at-home mom in my part-time, today I make (insert lavish dollar amount) and I’m still a stay at home mom…working part-time!”

I recall the motivational orientation.  (Flashback begins)

Que the 90’s upbeat dance music (let me add “cheesy,” too).

Now, put yourself in a hotel banquet room, with about 100 others.  Clapping.

The lights dim.  Except for the make-shift stage.

Some guy in a Miami-vice suit jumps up front with one of those stupid wireless microphones attached to his ear.

His overly enthusiastic smile is enough to make you want to chew your own face off!  (Kinda makes you wonder how you ever got there, better yet, how ANYONE ever got there).

THIS CAN BE YOUR LIFE!

Anyway, after a 30 minute rags-to-riches testimonial, and an unparalleled changing of this man’s life, juxtaposed with picures of the Carribean, the big cruise ship, and the new Porche (you know, it’s always the same picture of the Carribean, isn’t it?), you begin to think, “I want that life.”

“I can do this.”

“I just need three friends.”

“Yeah, piece of cake.  I’ll be the next motivational speaker!”

Three months later, where are you?  Or, let me personalize it, where am I? I’m on the phone trying to get the auto-pay option discontinued.  I have boxes of materials stuffed away and a long list of friends needing apologies.

The truth is, none of that should have any real lasting appeal.  Be thankful that’s not your life.  Did you know that the overwhelming majority of lottery winners end up right back in debt within years?  (See this article, if interested).  It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?  Maybe that’s why it’s been said that if all the world’s wealth was divided up evenly amongst the population, within a few years, we’d all be back in the same spots.

Personalize it for a minute.  Do you receive a “refund” during the tax season?  Meaning, instead of paying into the tax coffers, do you receive a hypothetical “bonus check?”  I worked with this young woman once who told me she got an $8,000 tax refund one year!  The irony was, just earlier she was complaining about not having enough money to fix her car.  I told her that $8,000 divided up over 12 months is over $600 a month!  The truth is, if she had been a better planner, she would have set up a cushion for an unexpected expense.

I guess one of the positive impacts of the “pyramid-dream” (let’s forgo calling it a “pyramid-scheme,” shall we?), is the emphasis it puts on PLANNING.  Yes, to get the future you dream of, you need to PLAN.

What’s your plan?

No, not financially.  Because, as you are already aware, money doesn’t buy you happiness.  However, as a good friend of mine recently counter-argued, “no, it may not buy you happiness, but it can buy to access to happiness.”  Really?  Is money required for access?  As if happiness is a theme park and only those who can cover the cost of admission get to partake?

Hardly.

Just earlier this morning I was at the school yard watching my son run to the entrance door.  As usual, I drove up to the playground, walked him across the street, and lifted him over the fence.  Then, over the next minute, as he runs toward the door, we engage in a battle of who can shout “I love you” loudest.

“I love you, Dad!”

“I love you, Vince!”

And, this goes on until he reaches the door.

Today, he got to the door, and as he usually does, he got the last “Love You” before heading into the building.  However, anticipating his “Love You,” I shouted before he did.  He laughed and walked in, but then behind the door, through the window, I see him wave “I Love You” in sign-language!

He won!

This was happiness!

Purely, happy.

And, there was no financial figure involved.

As, I climbed back into the truck and turned toward home, I prayed.  I told God that I was happy and thankful for the happiness that was overwhelming every fiber of my body.  I told him that I am honored to be the dad of the beautiful children He gave me, and that I am amazed at how much He loves me!  You see, God loves me so much that He sent His beautiful son to endure a death I couldn’t so I can receive a life I don’t deserve.  His son was beaten, bruised, and bloodied for the sins that I committed.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

-2 Corinthians 5:21

I can’t imagine sending my own child to anywhere NEAR the persecution of the cross, let alone for the sins that another committed.  Yuk!

Yet, He did.

Because, He loves.

It’s because He loves, I write.

I speak.

And, I live.

It’s not because of he who is in the world, but because of He who is in me.

God has a plan, too.  And, like the “pyramid-dreams,” you should tell at least three people!  Jesus calls it “the great commission.”

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

Some Christians would be better calling it ‘The Great Omission,” however, as they can hardly muster up the energy to proclaim their King.

Again, what’s your plan?  Are you part of the Commission, or the Omission?

Let’s draw a metaphorical hypothetical and find out.

You awake in the middle of the night to a roaring fire across the street.  The lot next to your neighbor’s house lit up and in just the time you jumped to the window the flames have already begun crossing the fence.  Within minutes your neighbor’s house is going to be caught up in this fire!

Your mind races through your friendly neighbor, his hospitable and loving wife, and their beautiful children.

Do you:

1)  Run out immediately, kick down the door Chuck Norris style, run up the stairs and save them?  Or,

2)  Let someone else worry about it?

Think about it for a minute.

Jesus called us to be disciples.  To lead.  To be the light of the world.

Where are we leading people?  Into the light!  Into safety.

See, Hell is an all-consuming fire (and don’t even begin to dismiss that argument claiming God isn’t hateful and wouldn’t send anyone to Hell!  Because He’s not hateful.  And, He doesn’t send anyone to Hell.  They choose it).  If we don’t warn others of the encroaching FIRE, they’re likely to BURN.  Seriously.  And, it really IS that simple.  People have a tendency to complicate religion, but really, Jesus made things quite simple.  There’s life and there’s death.  No middle.

You don’t have to be a trained fire-fighter to warn people of fire.  And, if this doesn’t offer total reassurance, you don’t even have to fight the fire (although, if your profession actually is a firefighter, please continue to do the awesome work you do!)!

As Jesus warns in Matthew 25, be as the homeowner on the lookout for the thief.  That is, be prepared!  Get your soul protected with the armor of God, and let Him extinguish the flame.  Just be on the lookout for others, and show them the light!

You are the light of the world.

-Matthew 5:14