Zaxby’s, One Penny and a Slap Across the Face

A few weeks ago, Rachel and I were out late and both got a pregnancy craving. So we did what all responsible adults do and made sure that craving was quenched. It just so happened that Zaxby’s was the first restaurant we came to, so we thought “why not?” and pulled into the drive-thru.

I ordered the delicious Wings & Things and Rachel ordered some mouth-watering chicken tenders.

As we pulled up to the window we were greeted by a sweet, I’d guess high school-aged girl. She gave us our total and Rachel handed me some cash to pay with. Not paying too close attention to the differential between our total bill and our cash payment left me surprised when our change was one penny.

That’s right. She handed us the receipt with a single penny. One cent.

Now most people wouldn’t have said anything about that one penny. Maybe you would have tossed it in your change purse or thrown it in the cup holder. Maybe your pocket. Maybe just dropped it on the floor. Because I mean after all, it’s just one penny.

But I’m not most people. It was late and that drive-thru wasn’t getting any more action. And for some reason at that moment I wanted to have some fun. So of course, as Rachel rolled her eyes, I made a small scene.

It went something like this:

Me: “Wow! One penny!? Thank you so much for making sure we got our correct change. I don’t know what we would have done if you’d not given us back our penny.”

Her: [Awkwardly smiling and not sure what to say.] “Ha. You’re welcome?”

Me: “I’m going to make sure this penny goes in a very special place and I’ll never forget this moment.”

Her: “Haha. Okay…I’m so glad.”

Me: “Haha. I’m just messing with you. Thanks for being fun to joke with, doing your job well, and seriously, thanks for the penny!”

Her: [Now realizing I’m not one of those crazy customers (well, maybe I still am), she laughs and enjoys the moment.] “You’re welcome. Have a good night!”

That was it. Nothing too monumental. But more than the normal “Thanks for the food.” with a less than truly grateful look on the customers face.

People are longing to connect with other people. And most people won’t take the initiative. That means it’s up to you. And sometimes it takes being willing to be awkward and going against “normal.”

I learned this first hand from my Dad and one of my mentors in high school. They’ve both never met a stranger and are willing to be awkward to make a connection. And they’re pros at it. So maybe I have a leg up on you because of my upbringing. Regardless, you know what it feels like when someone goes out of their way to make a connection with you. It makes your day. Wouldn’t the world be different if we all focused on connecting with one another?

Years ago I worked at Chick-fil-A and would be placed in the drive-thru window. When people came to pay and receive their food, I’d have a small conversation to just try and brighten their day. Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t. But one thing was for sure: I wasn’t fast. Long story short, it didn’t take long before someone else was working the drive-thru window.

If you’re going to connect with people you have to slow down and take note of the smallest things in life. Laugh at them. And make a moment. Sometimes even with a penny.

As I drove away that night from Zaxby’s, I was reminded of a story in Scripture that basically slapped me across the face. It highlights the significance of “one coin” and is found in Luke 15: 8-10. Here’s what Jesus says:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

You see why I felt slapped across the face? I had been joking about one penny as if it was truly insignificant. And in reality, one penny isn’t a big deal. But when it comes to making a spiritual connection, one life is never insignificant. That was Jesus’ point.

It’s easy for you to see how 1 coin out of 10 is significant if that’s all you have. Jesus is essentially saying that searching for 1 lost coin out of 10 is no more justified than searching for 1 lost person out of billions. So then we can never say “that’s just one penny” or “that’s just one lost person.” He’s passionate about not losing one.

Connecting with people and laughing isn’t bad. That needs to happen and is an end in itself. But the greatest end is connecting people with their greatest need. And their greatest need is a relationship with Jesus. 

So the next time you get a penny as your change, maybe make it awkward, laugh and connect with the cashier. It’s awesome! You have to try it. But don’t forget that that person might very well be like a “lost coin” who needs to be found. Try to bring Jesus into the conversation. It won’t happen every time. And it will be difficult. Don’t beat yourself up. But if you’re able to connect them with Jesus…Celebrate! The angels in heaven will be. Let’s not let them have all the fun!

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What is Love?

Today is Valentine’s Day.

It’s the annual day where loved ones profess their love for one another verbally, tangibly and with the rise of social media, publicly. The common gifts are flowers, chocolate and love letters. Some go out for a nice dinner. Others buy jewelry, a stuffed animal or a special custom gift. It’s a “sweet” time of year.

The most profound thing about this day is that the motivation behind it all is this idea of “love.” “I love you” is thrown around more on this day than maybe any other day of the year. There is a feeling of love in the air. And yet, we live in a culture where true love is distorted and misunderstood.

Love cannot be bought.

Love is not cheap.

Love is not easy.

Love is not exemplified by 50 Shades of Grey.

Love cannot be relegated to one day a year.

Love is not a feeling.  

So what is it?

Dr. Tony Evans, defines it like this: “Love is the decision to compassionately seek the well-being of another even when the emotion of liking them is not present.”

I believe he is spot on. But how opposite is this definition of love from the love we see all around us?

In our world today, if someone doesn’t feel like loving, they won’t. If loving gets hard, they stop. If loving takes work, they quit.

So how do we cure this false, pitiful attempt at love we’ve been buying in to? How do we embrace true love? Receive it.

We will always be unable to perfectly show love. However, we can receive perfect love. And by receiving it, we will be transformed in the process and begin loving others the way we were created to.

True, perfect love has a name. Jesus. 

We see what true love is in 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Jesus embodied true love through dying for you, me and every soul who ever has and ever will live. Even though he may not have felt like loving (Matthew 26:36-39) he followed through.

Through Jesus’ life we see that love is a choice.

Love is unwavering commitment.

Love is sacrificial.

Love is unconditional.

Love is selfless.

So when you say “I Love You” today, is it the kind of love that would lead you to lay down your life for that person? It is unconditional? Is it selfless? Or is it some weak, twisted, “feeling-founded” love that has no basis?

If you’re single, you aren’t a loser. Get to know Jesus so that when you are in a relationship you will know what true love is.

If you’re dating, be careful not to say “I Love You” if you don’t mean it, aren’t willing to follow through on it or have no idea what true love is. Instead, get to know Jesus.

If you’re married, engaged or heading in that direction, get to know Jesus. Learn how to love the way he modeled and commit to it. Your valentine is worth it. Just don’t let today be the only day you show and tell how much you love them.

Beyond romantic relationships, we all are called to love one another (John 13:34). But that’s another conversation for another day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

4 Things I’ve Learned from 4 Years of Marriage

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January 7, 2011.

To most people this date means very little. You may not remember where you were or what was in the news, what the weather was like or who you were with. But I do. I was in Charlotte, NC at Hawthorne Lane UMC with my closest friends and family. It was cold and rainy. The anticipation and excitement had been building for close to a year. I cried my eyes out as she walked down the aisle. It was the day I married my wife, Rachel.

That was 4 years ago today. 4 years! I can’t believe it’s been that long. I know it’s an overused saying, but it really does seem like it happened yesterday. I can still play every detail of the ceremony and reception over in my mind. It was beautiful. Emotional. Spiritual. Worshipful. Detailed. Fun. I’ll never forget it.

And while our wedding day 4 years ago was fantastic, it pales in comparison to our 4 years of marriage. Why? Because a marriage is better than a wedding.

Think about it.
It’s great that we made a public commitment to each other 4 years ago, but what’s better is that we’ve stayed committed for 4 years.
It’s great that we said “I do” 4 years ago, but what’s better is that we’ve said 1,460 “I do’s” since.
It’s great that we loved each other on our wedding day, but what’s better is that our love has grown each year.

That’s why we’re not just celebrating 4 years since our ceremony. An event. We’re celebrating 4 years of being married. A relationship.

Our marriage is not perfect. It’s not without disagreement at times. We have many areas to work on as a couple. I have a LOT of areas to work on as a husband. But it’s a marriage. A relationship. Something we are committed to. And that’s cool. That’s worth celebrating!

I don’t pretend to be a marriage expert. I’ve only been at this for 4 years. But as I was thinking about this post, I realized there are lots of things that I’ve learned from 4 years of marriage. And some of those greatest lessons have been discovering what strengthens our marriage. Since I couldn’t write about all of those, I narrowed it to 4 things. They are commitments we will continue to strive for as we press on to our 5 year anniversary and beyond. If you are married, thinking about marriage, or think you might one day think about it, take a look at these. I pray they help to make your marriage better than your wedding day.

1. Assume the Best.
Every relationship will have tension at some point or another. How you enter it could make all the difference in the outcome. I don’t know about you, but I am great at making up stories in my head about the intentions of other people. And those intentions are not normally good ones that I imagine. But that’s my bad. That’s assuming the worst. When you have an attitude of assuming the best, tension is easier to work through. Because you go in believing that the other person is on your side. They love you. They want what’s best for you. And they don’t want to hurt you. It makes a world of difference.

2. Talk About the Deep Things.
I’m not necessarily talking about having intellectually deep conversations. Though those are good to have as a couple if you’re into those. I’m talking more about the deep things you wrestle with. The disagreements. The frustrations. The things in your heart. The questions you have. The doubts. The feelings. The ups and the downs. The emotions. Your dreams. Your goals. Your passions. Don’t stuff them. Talk about them. And say “I’m sorry.” Talking leads to growth.

3. Love Jesus.
This might sound cliché to some and counterintuitive to others. I get that. But this is the single most important factor to our marriage growing. Two people striving to love Jesus learn more and more about the love, forgiveness and sacrifice he modeled and called his followers to emulate. Husbands are challenged to love their wives like Christ loved the church…that’s quite a challenge. And most importantly, couples are called to love Jesus more than each other. As they do that, they actually love each other more than if they were trying to love each other without Jesus. Out of their overflow for Jesus they love one another. It’s a lifelong journey. And it grows the relationship. It’s the foundation.

4. Become Best Friends.
I believe a lot of people who are married love one another, but I’m not sure if they like one another. Once the romance of the honeymoon wears off and the kids are born, marriage becomes tough to tolerate. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Thankfully I don’t just love Rachel. I like her. I like hanging out with her. I like laughing with her. I like going on dates with her, and learning more about her. I like surprising her and not taking ourselves too seriously together. We’re friends. The BFF kind. Become best friends. It’s worth it.

I love Rachel. So much. She’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. She loves me more than I deserve. She is a mom who cherishes our little girl. She’s a worshipper who loves Jesus most. She’s my best friend. I’m beyond blessed to call her my wife. I wouldn’t want to spend my life with anyone else. Here’s to another year.

Happy 4 Year Anniversary, Rachel!

Don’t Just Be Thankful Today

ethical-ocean-thankfulSeveral years ago I was at a Sunday morning church service on either Veterans or Memorial Day weekend. I can’t remember which it was, but the focus that Sunday was to honor our military. One way they did so was by bringing in a veteran to speak. He told war stories and spoke of how God had worked in an incredible way in his life while fighting in Vietnam. The one thing I will never forget from his message is what he challenged everyone with. He said, “Whenever you meet someone who has served in our military, say ‘thank you.’” From that day forward I decided I would if I got the chance.

Not long after hearing that challenge I was in the gym at UNC-Charlotte. I happened to meet a guy who was now a student and formerly had served in the military. Once we had exchanged names and I learned his story, I casually but genuinely said, “Thank you for serving our country.” What happened next will never leave me. He accepted my thankfulness with a “you’re welcome” and went on with his workout. Several minutes later he came back to where I was working out. He had tears in his eyes and said, “No one has ever thanked me before today. Thank you.”

Here’s what I learned that day: “being” thankful is great. But saying it is better.

Why? Well obviously, nobody knows you are thankful for them if you don’t say it. But more than that, something special happens for both the one giving and receiving thanks when it’s said.

When someone receives a “thank you,” it gives them a sense of self-worth and affirmation. It encourages them in who they are and what they are doing.
When you give a “thank you,” it reminds you that it’s not all about you. You acknowledge your dependence on someone else and realize others’ contribution to you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Again, not just be thankful, but give thanks. Say it.

Whatever circumstance you find yourself in today you have a LOT to give thanks for. And most importantly, you have a LOT of people to give thanks for.

Parents. Grandparents. Mentors. Co-workers. Coaches. Teachers. Friends. Relatives. Police. Firefighters. Teammates. Waiters and waitresses. Bank Tellers. Starbucks Baristas. Business people. Receptionists. Employers. Etc.

Daily, someone invests in you.

Do they know you are thankful? Are you?

Instead of just being thankful or listing all the things you are thankful for on Facebook, find someone to say “thank you” to today. Make a phone call. Send a text message. Shoot an email. Write a note. Or be bold and tell someone in person how thankful you are for them. It will change them and you in the process. And oh yeah, it’s God’s will for your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pic Credit HERE

Grace and Tacos

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Several months ago I went out to lunch with a friend of mine to a tasty Mexican restaurant.
As we sat there talking and eating chips and salsa I had the thought that I should pay for his lunch. He had enough money to buy his own and he wasn’t expecting me to buy his, but I’ve had my lunch bought dozens of times by others and I wanted to “pay it forward.” So I decided I would buy, but I didn’t tell him. When the checks came at the end of lunch I was going to just pick up both checks and pay. You know, the smooth way.

Shortly after deciding I was going to buy, the waitress came to take our orders. I ordered some cheap lunch special. But my friend didn’t. He ordered one of the most expensive combination platters on the entire menu. Then I went in to “have-a-conversation-with-yourself-mode.”

It went something like this:

“I can’t believe it! Here I was about to be nice and generous to this guy and he goes and orders that!? Oh well. He can kiss his free lunch goodbye. I can’t pay for his now. It’s going to cost me way more than I had planned on spending. Good thing I never told him I was paying. He can just pay this time. Maybe next time I’ll buy his if he stays within a reasonable price range.”

After having the very normal, silent conversation with myself I immediately had a new thought—“I don’t like myself right now.”

Why?

Because my heart had just been fully exposed.

In that moment I was full of pride.

In that moment I was extremely selfish.

In that moment I loved my money more than my friend.

While pride, selfishness and greed are enough to make you feel bad about yourself, I realized there was a deeper issue.

In that moment I had forgotten grace.

Grace.

It’s at the center of the heart of God. It’s what separates Christianity from all other world religions. It’s beautiful to those who need it and offensive to those who don’t. It exposes the self-righteous and makes them mad. It’s living water to the broken sinner and makes them glad.

When we make a mistake in life we want it. It’s so easy to receive.
But when others make a mistake we don’t want to give it. It’s difficult to give away.

Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. It’s unearned by the one receiving it. And unconditional by the one giving it.

Jesus is the embodiment of grace. “While we all were still sinners He died for us.” Jesus didn’t wait to see how much we were going to sin and then decide if he would pay for it. He knew how much it was going to cost him and didn’t turn away. Even though we didn’t deserve it, he died in our place. That’s true love. That’s grace.

Maybe more than anything else, followers of Jesus should be known for showing people grace because we ourselves have been shown an immeasurable amount of it.

Currently I have a losing record showing it. I struggle at it. But I want to get better. I have a feeling you do too.

So the next time you’re cut off in line.

The next time somebody says something to hurt you.

The next time a waitress gets your order wrong.

Or the next time you have an opportunity to buy someone’s lunch…show grace.

And when you struggle to show it, remind yourself again of the immeasurable grace Jesus has shown you. And then show grace again. And again. And again.

It’s going to cost you. (Maybe even the price of a couple tacos).

And the other person won’t deserve it.

But that’s just fine.

That’s what grace is all about.

Do you struggle showing people grace?

Pic credit Here

Why do the unnecessary?

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photo credit Here

A couple of months ago my awesome mother-in-law flew down to visit from North Carolina. My wife, Rachel, and I along with our new baby girl, Avonlea, got in the car to go pick her up at the airport. On the way, Rachel decided she wanted to surprise her mom by greeting her in the lobby of the terminal instead of waiting to see her in the “arrivals” car pick-up line. And not just that, she wanted to take our 3 month old baby in to the lobby as well.

Now, I could have responded with excitement and support of what Rachel wanted to do.
Unfortunately, I didn’t.

I said something like this: “I would have to drop you and Avonlea off at the arrivals area and then go park and wait. How far is the parking lot? Avonlea is sleeping. Do we really want to wake her up?
And what difference is it going to make? We are going to see her for several days. Can’t we just wait until she gets in the car? Why do you need to go to the lobby? That’s a lot on you and the baby.”

And then I said these three words

That’s not necessary.

Without missing a beat Rachel responded:
“Just because it isn’t necessary, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”

Boom. I had the wind knocked out of me instantly. I was convicted. I felt really stupid. I had missed it completely.

Rachel was trying to do something for her mom that was more than expected. She wanted to show her how excited she was to see her. I was thinking about the inconvenience. How it would affect me.

It wasn’t necessary. The success of my mother-in-law’s visit didn’t depend on Rachel going into the lobby.
But that didn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

One of the greatest examples of the unnecessary is God’s instructions to Israel in the construction of the ark in Exodus 25:10-21. The Ark was to hold the 10 Commandments. Some of the instructions were to use pure gold, a certain type of wood and precise measurements.

The unnecessary gets bumped up a notch in Exodus 25:11: “Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.” Do you see that? Even the part that wouldn’t be seen, inside, underneath the cover was to be pure gold.

Isn’t that unnecessary? Couldn’t the people have just built a sturdy, wooden box to carry the 10 Commandments? And even the inside had gold? Come on. Isn’t that a bit much?

Maybe.

But what if the box that held the 10 Commandments mattered because even it represented God? What if God was just as concerned about the inside of the ark, which nobody saw, as he was about the outside that everyone saw?

The truth is, when it comes to honoring God and connecting with people there is no such category as “unnecessary.” But rather, just things that “seem” unnecessary.

Because only by doing what seems unnecessary…
the things that don’t make sense to most people,
that are different,
that seem extreme,
that focus on the details,
that examine your private and public life…
will you begin to fully honor God and connect with people.

It’s a life of excellence.

It’s what we were made for.

And it’s a life that deep down we all want to live.

How could you do something this week that seems unnecessary to most that would honor God or connect with people?

What I learned from a waiter at outback

One of the many things I’m passionate about is food. I enjoy eating. And I really enjoy eating good food. No, great food. Better yet, “personal” food. You know, that food that you could eat a thousand times in a row and you would never get tired of. You want to eat it when you are having a good day or a bad day. The smell. The taste. The experience. It captivates you. It draws you in. You know you’ve found it when both your tummy and your heart are made happy by it. I don’t know what that is for you, but for me one food stands above the rest. There is no competition. Outback cheese fries!

A couple of months ago I went to a local Outback to have a plate of their mouthwatering cheese fries for an appetizer. And the way I eat them is by dipping them into some of Outback’s delicious ranch dressing. And yes, I know that greasy cheese and fatty ranch isn’t the best for me. But I really, really, really like their ranch, especially when it’s combined with cheese fries. I like it so much that I have to ask for extra ranch dressing each visit.

Well something happened during this trip to Outback that I can’t remember ever happening before. I didn’t have to ask for more ranch. As I was about to ask our waiter, Paul, for another cup of ranch he was walking towards our table with a cup in his hand. I was surprised and thankful. Then to top it off, when our dinner was brought out, Paul put a cup of ranch dressing on my dinner plate. Again, without me asking.

As I’ve thought back on that night, one word keeps coming to my mind—Anticipation.

Paul had an ability to anticipate what it was that I wanted without me ever asking him. He genuinely cared, engaged with me and others at our table, watched what we enjoyed and took mental notes. Then he acted on it. Paul’s ability to anticipate separates him from other waiters who never get the clues that people give them. I bet you’ve had a moment where someone anticipated something you wanted, needed or liked without you ever asking them. How did they know? Simple—they cared about you and got to know you.

Each day you have the opportunity to anticipate in the relationships you have. If you will do it, you will grow in those relationships and show to those people how much they matter to you. And you might just surprise them like a cup of ranch dressing surprised me.

What are some ways you could anticipate in the relationships you have?

*PHOTO CRED HERE*