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!

10 Things I Want Students to Know as they Start the New School Year

Today marks the beginning of the new school year for public school students in Hillsborough county. I live, work and play in this county and according to one of my favorite websites, Wikipedia, Hillsborough County Public Schools is the 9th largest public school district in the entire country. Crazy big!

On top of that, there are thousands of more private, charter, and homeschool students within our county borders, as well as thousands more college students who have already started back.

Pretty overwhelming, huh? Try driving on the roads around here when school lets out. 🙂

Since I work with students, these stats and the reality of the new year got me thinking. So I decided to write a short letter to all those who already have or are starting school today. Here it is.

Dear Students,

It’s that time of year again. Back. To. School. Some of you are indifferent, some of you are excited and others of you are disappointed. Regardless of your emotion, it’s here.

As I prayed for you this morning, it got me thinking: “What would I have wanted someone to say to me if today, August 25, 2015, was my first day back to school?” So I came up with a list of 10 things. Maybe one or more will stick out to you and challenge you as you start the new year.

  1. You are blessed to be able to receive an education. Millions of people all around the world do not have access to the schooling options you have and would give anything to be in your shoes. You have the opportunity to develop your mind. Your mind is incredibly powerful. Don’t see school as a necessary evil. Learn all you can. Don’t take it for granted.
  2. Do your best. Not everyone is an “A” student. That’s okay. But everyone can give their best effort.
  3. You are NOT entitled to good grades or preferential treatment. Life’s not fair. Others will get what they don’t deserve. That’s okay. Trust that hard work pays off and that there is more satisfaction in earning what you have. Don’t be lazy.
  4. Slow down and have fun! Enjoy the moments. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others or their achievements. Enjoy it. Laugh. Cry. Pause. Soak it all in. It will be gone before you know it.
  5. Figure out who you are. This is a life-long, evolving process. If you’re in college, you should be further down the road with this than a middle school student. But start asking tough questions now. What are your strengths? How has God gifted you? Then take classes and pursue a career around “WHO” you are. And always remember, your character is something you decide and incredibly important. Don’t let others tell you who you are. Don’t downplay it. While figuring out “who you were created to be,” make sure “who you are” is someone of high character.
  6. Get to know people who are different from you. Join a random club. Sit with someone new at lunch. Talk to people who look, believe and think uniquely. Learn to just “be” with people and enjoy them.
  7. Live passionately and love boldly. Be different. Don’t settle for mediocrity or blending in with the crowd. Be set apart. Serve other people. Say over and over again “life isn’t about me.”  
  8. Find a small group of friends who accept you for who you are and encourage you in your convictions. Where you end up can often be predicted by who you surround yourself with. Choose your friends wisely. Don’t worry about being the most popular kid or having everyone like you. Pursue good relationships.
  9. Respect and honor your teachers. They didn’t get into teaching to make the big bucks. They got into it because they care about teaching students. Don’t make them regret teaching. Make it their best year yet.
  10. It’s all about Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus, realize that no amount of fun or achievement in this life can fulfill the deepest longing of your soul. All of life will only become less meaningful the older you get without Him. Anyone can begin a relationship with Him. Even you. If you do know Jesus, my challenge for you is to make Him famous in your school. Honor Jesus with the life that you live and don’t let the school year pass without making sure your friends know about Him. Don’t beat them over the head with Bibles or become judgmental. But grow in your relationship with Jesus so much that others can’t help but want what you have. Let Jesus be at the center of your life.

It’s a new year. You future is not hindered by past failures or guaranteed by past success. Today is a new day.

I Believe in you!

Matt

Why You Should Stop Telling People You’ll Pray For Them

I’ve said it countless times. And I bet you’ve either said it or had it said to you.

The conversation goes something like this:

You kindly ask how someone is doing.

Instead of getting the rote response of “I’m good. you?”, the other person actually thinks you care and feels comfortable enough to open up to you…so they do.

If you aren’t in too much of a hurry or insensitive, you listen as they tell you about something going on in their life. Maybe how they are struggling, that they or someone they care about is sick, that they are in need of a job, etc.

After trying to empathize and show concern, you then say those 5 comforting, seemingly magical words to wrap up the conversation.

“I’ll be praying for you.”

The other person is very appreciative.

They might even reciprocate and ask how they can pray for you.

You tell them.

They assure you they will be praying.

You thank them.

You both nod.

Smile.

Then walk away from the conversation feeling better.

Have you been there?

Chances are if you know a Christian, or are one, you have.

And it needs to stop.

Seriously.

The next time you feel the “tug” to tell someone you will be praying for them, don’t do it.

Why?

Because you likely don’t do it. You won’t pray. 

Right?

You mean well. You really do. You may even plan on praying for them when you get around to it.

But at the end of the day, “I’ll be praying for you” has become in the Christian subculture a phrase of comfort more than a promise that’s delivered.

And that’s a shame.

Because prayer throughout the pages of Scripture is shown to be an incredible asset in the life of a Christian. It’s literally our access line to communicate to the God of the Universe. It’s how we can connect and grow in our relationship with Him. It should be something we cannot go a day without doing.

And it’s powerful. It’s a game changer. We are promised that things may be different if we pray.

Scripture is replete with examples concerning prayer.  Here are just a few:

  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgivetheir sin and will heal their land.
  • James 5:16-17 – The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
  • Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

There are obviously many other passages on prayer besides these. What’s interesting is that none of the commands to pray or examples of people praying are future tense. It’s always understood that the time to pray is now, in the present.

We don’t see Jesus interacting with people and telling them “I’ll be praying for you.” 

A couple months ago I was confronted with this issue head on. I had a short meeting with a pastor on our staff and towards the end of our conversation he asked specifically how he could pray for me. After telling him, instead of saying “I’ll be praying for you,” he did something remarkable. He prayed!

As I walked out of his office I began to recall many other times I’d seen him praying with someone in the hallway, out in public and even for me. And I realized I’d never heard “I will be” come out of his mouth. He just did it.

When we say “I’ll be praying for you” and don’t follow through, as tough as it is to admit, we lie to the person. And more than that, we reveal a disbelief in the power and importance of prayer. Because if we truly believed prayer worked, we would pray.

We all have good intentions when we utter that phrase. I know that nobody sets out to be a liar. So here are 3 things I’m committing to that I think are better options:

1. Remove the phrase “I’ll be praying for you” from your conversational default. There is no command in Scripture that says you have to say that. So just let it go. And you will immediately stop lying…at least in this area of your life.

2. Pray with someone on the spot. It’s a bit scary if you aren’t used to it. And I’ll admit I rarely do it in public.

3. Keep a prayer list. If I’m ever talking to you and I pull out my phone, I’m not messaging someone. I’m writing your name down and how I can pray for you. I have a lot on my mind, just like you do, and I know I’ll forget if I don’t. Writing it down is a way for me to remember and to hold myself accountable to pray. I’ll look at that prayer list more regularly than I’ll remember who I said I’ll be praying for.

If you do deliver on your promise to pray for others, that’s wonderful. Keep it up!

For the majority of everyone else, just stop saying it. And in the majority, I’m including myself. We can do better. We can actually pray.

What are some other ways you help yourself remember to pray for others?