Tuesday, July 09, 2019

How Does Trader Joe's Get Us to Spend More Money in Their Stores?

I love shopping at Trader Joe's and Aldi, both of which seem to employ principles of simplicity in their business models. (During a trip to Germany to see Reformation sites last year, we shopped briefly at two outlets of Aldi Süd--the German Aldi chain voluntarily split in two some years ago--and I enjoyed those Aldi even more than the ones in this country. Here's a link to the website for Aldi Nord in Germany.)

Trader Joe's stores are always fun for me to visit, an experience as much as a shopping foray.

The homemade quality of the labeling, mentioned in this video from Business Insider, also is seen in the local stores' signage. On a visit to my local TJ's last week, the checker told me that she was also the "store artist," a graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design. She spends one day a week creating, designing, and executing the beautiful hand-drawn signs that also give all Trader Joe's outlets their distinctive look.

But, in addition to offering quality products at better prices than other grocers specializing in more organic and fresher foods, Trader Joe's makes it easier to choose your purchases for several important reasons discussed in the video. Genius!

I don't fault Trader Joe's for the "sneaky ways" this video refers to at all. On reflection, the chain's "sneaky ways" are part of the reason I like its stores so much.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Called Out of the Christian Ghetto

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 10:1-20
As a pastor, I tend to spend most of my days in the Christian ghetto. Most of the people I see and interact with each day are Christians. 

That might seem wonderful to you. You're likely thinking, “If you knew some of the people I interact with each day, Pastor, you’d be thankful to be spending so much time with Christians.” Well, I do appreciate Christians. The Bible teaches that you and I need each other in the fellowship of Christ’s Church.

But I also think that it’s not a great thing that I spend the vast majority of my time each day with other Christians. How on earth are we going to share the good news of new life through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus with the whole world if we spend all or most of our time with just other Christians?

The Church is growing in other parts of the world, making Christianity the fastest growing religion by conversions on the planet. But the Church in our world--in North America--is shrinking, the number of people who follow Jesus for new and everlasting life is decreasing.

This is true even among people who are on church rosters. This past week, Dr. Leonard Sweet posted daunting facts on Facebook. “[Fifteen] years ago,” he wrote, “40% of church members attended four times a month. In 2018, only 10% attended four times/month, a 37% drop in worship attendance. So you could have the exact same membership church and on Sunday mornings it looks like you’ve lost over a third of your members.”

Christians might look at that data and think, “That’s a relief. At least those missing people are still members.” But there’s a difference between members and disciples. When people aren’t regularly in worship, they are at risk of growing out of touch with Christ altogether.

Acts 2:42 says of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The early Christians worshiped together; they saw that as the first thing they needed to do in response to the free gifts of forgiveness and new life we have through Jesus. But they also gathered as often as they could just to pray and consider God’s Word together. Like a football team, they huddled before each play, coming together to get ready for whatever came next, for life outside the Christian ghetto.

Sweet’s data shows that many Christians are distancing themselves from all those annoying Christians, annoying because those other Christians are as imperfect and as in need of God’s grace in Christ as you and I are. We forget that, by the power of the Holy Spirit who comes to Christians in our baptisms, those other Christians might have things to teach us from God. We forget, in the words of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We need the sharpening and the formation that only happens when a fellowship of imperfect Christians is forged together in the fire of the Holy Spirit.

But the number of people who consider themselves Christians here in our country and in our own neighborhoods is also shrinking. The 2010 census shows that in Montgomery County, the percentage of our neighbors who claimed no religious affiliation was 51.5%. It seems likely to me that that number will be bigger when the 2020 census is taken, that well over half of our neighbors will have no connection to life through Jesus Christ!

This state of affairs will not change if we follow the easy course of staying in our Christian ghetto. Even pastors, ministers of Word and Sacrament, will need to spend more time outside of the Christian ghetto if we’re to make a dent in the spiritually disconnected population. 

Simple compassion for those who are in danger of facing a Christ-less eternity should motivate us. “Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus],” God’s Word tells us, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Love for God and love for others should fill us with a sense of urgency about sharing the gospel with our spiritually disconnected neighbors and friends.

Jesus had this sense of urgency for the lost. He said that He had come to seek and save the lost. And He wanted people to understand that the miracles He performed and the grace He showed to the most notorious of sinners pointed to Him as God and Savior of the world, the One Who offers eternity with God as a free gift to all who believe in Him. 

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus sends out seventy-two of His disciples to prepare towns and villages for His appearance among them. 

There were, Jesus says, lots of spiritually disconnected people to reach who were like crops ready to be gathered into the kingdom of God: “The harvest is plentiful [Jesus says] but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2) 

Jesus says that we Christians need to pray that God will send faithful disciples among the spiritually lost so that they can encounter Jesus and His saving grace. We need to be praying for disciples to go into the harvests in Centerville, Miamisburg, Springboro, West Carrollton, Beavercreek, and all the Dayton area.

But Jesus says that we also need to be prepared to be the ones He sends into the harvest, despite the possibility of rejection and other dangers: “Go! [Jesus says] I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) 

Jesus goes on to say that if people do reject us, we cannot be discouraged. When you know that you belong to Jesus Christ, discouragement is not a long-term option. 

We believe, as Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism, that as we rely on Christ, He frees us from the temptation to “false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.”

Jesus spends much of today’s gospel lesson telling disciples intent on following His call out into the world among non-Christians about the awful consequences of our refusing to prepare others to meet Jesus and of others refusing to hear us tell them about Jesus. He says that those who spurn Him, the Author of life, will go to Hades (Luke 10:15), the place set aside for those who choose death over Jesus. 

And He tells disciples who seek to faithfully share Him with others: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

Our lesson ends with the seventy-two disciples exulting in all the lives that had been touched by God’s grace and mercy shared in the name of Jesus. Jesus shares their joy. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18) 

When we share Jesus’ name in love with others and they receive Jesus in faith, the powers of sin, death, and hell, all those things that keep us living in the freedom, hope, and peace that Jesus brings, those dark powers are decimated! 

But, just in case we make the mistake of thinking that the good things that God does through us when we share Jesus has anything to do with us, Jesus warns us: “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) 

There are people outside these doors and the doors of our homes who only have misinformation and disinformation or no information about Jesus. Jesus wants to use you and me to share the straight scoop about Him: that He is God’s one and only Son, given to us because of God’s love for everyone, Jesus Who died and rose for us and promises that all who turn from sin and turn to Him will live forever with God, starting right here and right now. 

Sharing that message is a big job! But here are four quick pointers on how to go about doing this mission to which Jesus has called us.

First: Make yourself available to share Christ with others. “Lord,” we might pray, “send workers into the harvest and make me willing to be one of them.” 

Second: Connect with the unchurched. Connect with others generally. Walk slowly through the grocery store and the neighborhood (when it’s not raining or too stinking hot). Initiate conversation with others. You don’t have to start by talking about Jesus. (People might think you were nuts if you did that anyway.) But it’s amazing how often God will open up chances for us to speak with others about Jesus when we take the time to show an interest in them. 

Third: Care about the physical needs of others. When we open our hearts to others with service in Jesus’ name, the hearts of some among those we serve will be opened to Jesus. 

Fourth: Ask God to cultivate a desire within you to tell others about Christ. I don’t know about you, but the closer I grow to Christ, the more my awareness of two things grows. First, I become more aware of the enormity of my sin. Second, I become more aware of the enormity of God's grace that covers my sin and fills me with everlasting life with God. The awareness of these two things alone should fill us with compassion for the spiritually disconnected. I always think, “If God has made me part of His kingdom, anyone can receive the gift of new life through faith in Jesus.” Anyone!

Jesus has saved us. Now Jesus sends us to reach others with the gospel...out beyond our Christian ghetto...so that Christ can reach them with the message of their salvation. As disciples, this is our calling from God. May the Holy Spirit empower you to follow that calling! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]