Monthly Archives: November 2011

Truth Wins

Funny story from this past week. A woman & her grandchild came into work & found our GM so they could log a complaint. In typical CFA fashion, my GM went with our company’s LAST method of conflict resolution. Listen, Apologize, Solve, & Thank… he heard her complaint that she had ordered a 12 nugget box & only got 8 in the box. And Matt was almost to the ‘solve’ stage when her granddaughter spoke up:

“Grandma, you said there was eleven nuggets in that box!!”

Of course, 11 is still not 12, so Matt solved the problem as he had intended to, but I had to repress my laughter. And the thought crossed my mind that, in some way, truth always wins.

That story is a terrible example of this idea. People ‘get away’ with exaggerations & manipulations of the truth all the time. And while karma is a nice idea, it’s just not biblical. I don’t believe in it, but I do believe in consequence… & of course, unrepentant sin carries a hefty & eternal fine. So stop lying people. It’s pointless. Even if it gets you an extra nugget or two… it makes you a liar.

Perhaps another story would be more poignant, but it is also deeply convicting to me.

Not too long ago, I saw a man that I hadn’t seen in years. And without volunteering too much family information, I cannot think of another person that has so negatively impacted each member of my family on such a personal level. So, to be frank, he’s not going to make our Christmas card list… likely, ever. And for good reason. And seeing him elicited some pretty raw emotions for me. Nothing visceral jumped into my heart, but I wasn’t hoping for a reunion. So I kept a distance & watched him grab a meal in a local restaurant I was at. Alone, he sat at a table, briefly organized his food & condiments, & then prayed. He prayed for 4 minutes, at least. And when he was done, went right to eating. He didn’t look up. Never noticed me. And was certainly not praying to draw attention to himself. He ate pretty quickly, got up, cleaned his table, & darted away.

And it hit me… Truth wins.

He has certainly merited some ill-will from a lot of people. It was years ago, but it was bad. And it has left wounds. But God doesn’t grant grace on merit. Mercy & grace are freely distributed to any who call on the name of Jesus. That’s the Truth… & Truth wins.

Presently, a dear friend & a mentor in my life is remembering his daughter, who passed a few years ago. And rightly, as well as righteously, he & his family mourn the loss. But mourning turns to joy, because Heaven is a portion of the Gospel, & the Gospel is the Truth. Truth wins.

Our son is precious. He is smart, charming, & a good-looking kid. I am already praying over the challenges that puberty may very well wreak on his cuteness. But today, & each day since he was given to us by God, has been awesome. And we are trying our best to navigate through our parenting follies to point Parker in ‘the way that he should go’. We may fail. He may not go where we point. But we’re pointing¬† him in that direction because the Bible tells us to, & the Bible is God’s Truth. Truth wins.

How does Truth impact you? I’m not asking if you merely know what ‘Truth’ I’m talking about. That’s nice, but knowing what the Gospel is means you attended a decent Sunday School class when you were younger. I’m asking about how the Truth that is the Gospel changes your mind, your thoughts, your choices, & your lifestyle.

Frankly, if you know the Truth, but you cannot point to the impact that Truth has on your life, you don’t know the Truth like you think you do. This Truth humbles your right to be offended, grants peace to your mourning, & directs the way you raise your children beyond traditions & experience.

Truth wins. Truth wins here & always.

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Where the Christians Are.

It has been an exhausting week. Nagging back pain has persisted, & a powerful cold has rendered me useless. It has taken everything I have to simply go to work & get it done. And each day has been followed by tired communication at home & sleepless, congested nights. So any highlights have bordered on inspirational. If you have come by work to offer encouragement, simply say hello, call, text, or send a note across the worldwide web, you have encouraged me. It’s just been that kind of a week.

But the winner, going away, for maximized encouragement goes to a complete stranger that came into Chick-Fil-A on Tuesday night. It was my first night shift, I was feeling horrible, & really struggling to stay focused. And through some act of providence, I was asked to walk the dining room to check on our terrific customers. So off I went, table by table, offering to get refills, to take trash away, or trying to open up brief little conversations with the people that have chosen to spend their evening with us at CFA.

One table, 3 young adults, was particularly talkative. They asked about my job, the company in general, & our particular store. And one of the two ladies at the table said that she, ‘loves this place. The food is great, but I love being around Christians’. And this isn’t new. I hear a lot about the stances that CFA takes that allow an environment of faith & devotion to it [off on Sundays, Christian music playing throughout the dining room, etc.]. So I thanked her, & simply asked her where she worshiped.

‘Oh, I’m not a Christian. I guess I’m agnostic, but I don’t really care for organized religion.’

…. but she comes to CFA because she loves ‘being around Christians’. And she went on the explain that at CFA we ‘care about individuals’, ‘seem focused on serving people for no benefit to ourselves’, & we can ‘share what we believe by how we treat people’. And she’s comfortable there.¬† She mentioned comfort last. Chicken was an added bonus. But the character & intentionality of our business & employees is what compels her to pay to spend time with us.

And I was stricken by the harsh reality there. She pays money to be around Christians. Her comfort, on a Kid’s Night no less [she had no kids with her], with total strangers who seem to value her on a basic level was reason enough to bring friends to fellowship at a business. And she doesn’t like church… she doesn’t believe in God.

‘Every life has a story’ – That’s what you’re taught at CFA. Everyone… absolutely every individual, is a unique person with a life story that is important & impacts their choices. So value each person as the individual that they are.

‘Second Mile Service’ – Any restaurant in America can serve customers. But at CFA, we strive to go that extra mile to maintain higher standards, practices, & customer expectations. From taking your food to your table, to responding¬† to your gratitude with ‘my pleasure’, going beyond the norm is what makes CFA excellent.

I could go on with the policies & high standards at CFA, but these two strike me most immediately, because I learned them early in life.

Imago Dei – We learn in Genesis that every person is a unique creation, made by God, in the image of God. Matthew 25:40 makes it clear that God is certainly concerned with how we treat ‘the least of these [within all mankind]’. And the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 challenges Christians to pursue discipleship relationships with the new converts. And true discipleship requires engagement in life-on-life relationships.

Outdo one another – ‘Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor… Contribute to the needs of the saints & seek to show hospitality.’ That a small sampling of Romans 12:9-21. And it is an amazing passage to read through. Encouraging yet demanding.

So, here’s what breaks my heart… CFA is not blazing a new trail in how to treat humanity. It may be unparalleled in the quick-service food industry, but loving people has been the letter of God’s Law for more than 2 millenia. And He did not exclusively contract the right to love to Truett Cathy. He gave the mission of love to all believers, & He called them the Church. So why in the world would someone prefer to pay to be around faithful worshipers, instead of freely attending a church service anywhere in town?

I love that I work at a place that cultivates an atmosphere that God requires of the Church. I am crushed that many churches are clearly failing to cultivate that same atmosphere. How are you showing love? What does your life reflect about your faith? And do you join other believers in worship at a place that seeks out the unbelieving? By no means should churches water down their adherence to God’s Word & the fundamental disciplines of the faith, but if I’m reading God’s Word correctly, the world is supposed to be drawn to God, through his agents of Truth & love… & that’s me & you.

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Write something about Penn State… ok.

My first blog request… what a huge honor/encouragement!! Someone reads this AND wants to hear my thoughts on something pressing in on their heart!?!? And to top it off, they showed up at my job to request it, so I got to enjoy Chick-Fil-A cashier ‘rock star status’ for no less than 11 seconds. It was awesome.

But there’s an odd reality to desiring the perspective of someone else… no one ever really asks how you view joy or exhilaration. There are few queries about deeply positive things. And today’s request was no different. ‘You should write about that awful stuff going on at Penn State.

If you aren’t up to speed, go to cnnsi.com. They have full coverage of the alleged sexual abuses of a former PSU assistant football coach. The short of it is that there are 8 cases (or victims) building a case of sexual abuse again young male children between 2002-2009. And if you swing by any chat area, blog or journalistic site that allows comments, you can read some raw, angry thoughts from people all over the country. I listen to a good bit of ESPN radio, & it is the dominant topic of the day. And in unusual unanimity, everyone agrees. Like everyone else, I am deeply saddened. Of course the depictions are horrifying & gut-wrenching. But if we all agree… why in the world does someone want my opinion?

Here’s what I’ve come up with… is there a Christian response? Is there a sense amidst the nonsense? Is there a peace within this war of abuse, neglect, & worldliness? No. Not likely. And I doubt it.

There is next to nothing to compare this to. Is this atrocity on the level of death camps & genocide? In those cases, I have never heard someone venture a silver lining. That would be a hard sale & probably a terrible idea to propose. And if there is an atrocity scale, & these abuses under-rank Auschwitz, does that really matter? There’s still no silver lining that’s going to pop out from however many innocent lives were damaged, distorted or destroyed by this.

So here’s some advice going forward. Integrity is foundational, fundamental, & always necessary! Find it, study it, grow it, cultivate it, search for it, cling to it, err on the side of it, never walk away from it, & forever hold it as a banner to who you are & how you live your life. In your marriage, your home, your work, your thoughts, your dating life, your text messages, your attractions, your conversations, your motivations, your desires, your successes & your failures, lift up the need to know & hold fast to integrity. Find your own moral compass & ethical principles & stick to them. Pursue those things that make you whole & holy. For me, it is Christ. So here’s some words from the Word on pursuing wholeness & integrity:

‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ [Philippians 4:8]

‘Let the words of my mouth & the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my rock & my redeemer.’ [Psalm 19:14]

‘May integrity & uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles. Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, & I have trusted in the Lord without wavering’ [Psalm 25:21-26:1]

‘Have you considered my servant Job… a blameless & upright man, who fears God & turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.’ [Job 2:3]

I especially love that last one. Faced with unfair circumstances, pitfalls everywhere, & innumerable foes, Job held his moral ground & his faithful bedrock. And that’s the key. Integrity, immersed in faithful obedience to Christ must be foundational. It can’t be a window dressing or an add-on. If integrity is not indispensable in our lives, we will dispense of it when the cost gets uncomfortably high. And there will be circumstances that try your integrity. These tests don’t always lead to sexual immorality, the dissolution of families, corruption & loss. But a lot of them do. And the trials that do not lead to the ‘big downfalls’ [whatever you think those are] lead to some pretty awful results themselves. So chase after the highest ground you’ve found, as if your life… your children, marriage, church, ministry, family, finances, & overall stability depends on it!

I suppose we are all faced with a Frostian divergence in the proverbial woods: one way leads to this being said of us…

‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his own soul?’ [Matthew 16:26]

The other way resulting in this…

‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus.’ [Philippians 4:7]

That’s my answer. ‘Choose this day whom you will serve.’ [Joshua 24:15b] And then go for it. Go recklessly after God. Pursue righteousness for His name’s sake. And when someone asks you about atrocities that are both wretched & unfathomable, turn the conversation to intentional choices in your life to avoid those things that lead to stumbling, falling away, & failing. And if the only ‘silver lining’ that can come from this devastating headline is renewed focus on integrity, amen.

‘…as for me & my house, we will serve the Lord.’ [Joshua 24:15d]

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Recovery from Spiritual Atrophy

Hurts. Hurts a lot.

Atrophy, for those that do not know, can generally be defined as either a ‘wasting away of the body or part of an organ’ or as ‘degeneration, decline, or decrease, as from disuse’. I know, that last definition actually sounds like a good 3 point, alliterative sermon [The 3 D’s of Spiritual Atrophy… if I ever preach again, I’ll try to remember that one]. But for the purposes of this post, we’ll avoid sermonizing.

If you have stumbled across this page & you don’t actually know me… that’s so cool! I love that about the Internet!! I don’t embrace being stalked down like an episode of Criminal Minds, but the providence & apparent randomness required for someone to just happen upon this blog is awesome to think about. So, welcome stranger. I’m Brad. 31, overweight, under tall, bald, & underneath all that is not athletic-in-appearance facade is an athletic frame… if memory serves. I divulge that to you all, because it is important to understand why I struggle with working out. Cardio hurts. Weight-lifting hurts. And it is simply impossible to go to any gym or fitness center without immediately spotting every skinny, fit, or comfortably self-aware attendee, & playing the comparison game.

Flip that profile over to the spiritual realm, & you find similar outcomes. If you have never or, like me, have not been recently practicing your spiritual disciplines, obedience to God’s mandates hurts. Daily study is hard. Scripture memory is arduous at best. Increasing your faith-filled dialogue & trying to avoid mindless conversations is a pain. And praying sincere, heart-centered, honest prayers that extend beyond asking for favors, blessings, forgiveness, mercy, & grace is daunting & exhausting. And it is all of those things because I have become spiritually puny. Whatever I used to lift up in ‘faith weight’ seems impossible to heave today. My Christ-aimed workout regiments of the past overwhelm my thoughts. How did I ever study that much every day? What did I pray about for an hour?!? And how in the world did I find so much joy in going to church every single day?

‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.’ [Isaiah 53:6a]

I am not the first to drop the ball. In fact, I’m one of… every one. Did you read that? Isaiah said that ‘every one’ has turned to his/her own way. I’m not a failure trailblazer. I took the easy road, the path of least resistance, & I quit. I had my reasons, but there is never a good enough reason to check out of this race. And there is only one reason that I am even allowed to run again:

‘And the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.’ [Isaiah 53:6b]

Jesus the Christ. That’s all I have to hang my hat on. I am a failure, a quitter, & a whiner. But I am also saved by the sacrifice & bathed in the love of Christ, so I am redeemed. There is no other reason for my recovery, because I cannot get back to where I was on my own. I cannot walk the way that I once walked, of my own desires & effort. But I can pull up the bootstraps for Jesus. I can set my eyes on Him & do exceedingly above all that I ask of Him or think that I am capable of, because it is the power of Christ in me that is working for His glory & my sanctification [Ephesians 3:20]. And that’s more than good news. It’s a mission statement.

Atrophy is a painful digression. And recovery is awful. But I would rather find myself hurting to get back to God, than be found degenerating, declining, & decreasing apart from Him.

May God grant us all the determination & supernatural ability to take any areas of atrophy in our lives & reshape them into vibrant, powerful muscles on the move for God’s sake!

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Gratitude

I’ve spent the last 15 months or more in some form of spiritual depression. I don’t know how else to describe it. My spirit had been extremely hard-pressed through a series of mistakes, missteps, attacks & ministry disasters. I stepped away from the pulpit, moved my wife & son back home, & avoided anything that resembled engaged ministry. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have lead worship or sought any accountability if I simply didn’t enjoy singing & love the men that God has placed in my life to hold me up, lift me up & beat me up. [It takes all three for righteous accountability… especially if God gives you me for a dance partner.]

So a tip of the cap to Ridgecrest Bapt.’s Exalt Team for pressing me to sing along with them a couple of times last year. It helped me clean out some clogged spiritual arteries. I believe the words we sang, & needed to let them out at the top of lungs. A nod also must go to my pastor at New Horizon Church, Dave Bowman. He pursued me, grounded my emotions, & patiently helped me sort through the garbled mess of personal responsibility, unfortunate circumstance, issues of disobedience, & the byproducts of divorcing that season of ministry. I could not have walked through this without that consistency. And above all other people & ministries, my heart & spirit have been protected & propelled by my sweet wife, Grace. She knows how important she is to me, but if two people read this, one of you is bound to berate me for not extolling her virtues & my gratitude, so here goes: she has been patient, compassionate, & wise. She has delicately balanced fighting for me & fighting against my wayward tendencies. She has frankly, had to lead. That admission is gut-wrenching & awful, but it is true nonetheless. I’ve taken that mantle back, & again she has humbly relented, & the state of our marriage & family is as strong as it has ever been. She deserves so much credit for her faithfulness, patience, & unwavering love for me & our union in Christ. My wife is awesome. I love her.

And now, through a series of unexpected, blessed events, I am being reminded of the ‘joy set before me’. Church excites me again, & I think that God has given our family a really cool, thoughtful church to worship at & engage in community with. The group of men that I meet with on Wednesday mornings are honest, faithful men who encourage me back toward my passion for life-on-life discipleship & accountability. And working at Chick-Fil-A in Durham [Roxboro Rd. site] is going to be great. They have a faithful, focused business model & I have loved meeting with Matt & Tony [GM & Owner], hearing their heart for people, Durham, obedience & the development of themselves & their employees.

I spent an hour this past week visiting my Aunt Marie. She had just had surgery to remove a brain tumor & is recovering at Duke. Groggy, exhausted, & certainly uncomfortable, she was so welcoming & warm when I walked in. And I was struck by the one phrase that she kept repeating. ‘I’m just so grateful.’ She would pause, smile at me, readjust to try to find some additional comfort on that awful plastic bed, & say ‘I’m just so grateful.’

It was inspiring. She mentioned her family, her health of all things, her granddaughter, my parents & sister, her nurse that was rubbing her feet with lotion, the doctors… she went on & on about all things gratitude-worthy. She either couldn’t or didn’t want to verbalize much of anything else. And I loved it. The only other thing she brought up was the one thing that is apparently required to discuss in any conversation with me: Parker, my son. I’m used ot it now, & he is a pretty great kid.

But the thought that has gripped me this week is this: do I express gratitude to & for the things that I am most grateful? Think about it. And expressions aren’t required to be verbal. Churchgoers can volunteer, serve, & sacrificially give gratitude. Husbands can hug & kiss their wives & kids, knock out some chores, & go on a date. Sons can clean. Employees can do that little extra that goes unpromoted but ever-appreciated.

Admittedly, however, I’m wildly verbal. And I have thoroughly enjoyed expressing gratitude this week. Give it a try. Let me know how it works out for you. And don’t look for responses. Act in gratitude towards those that you’re grateful for. And let that be all the reaction that you need.

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