Chick-Fil-A Lessons for the Church

Last week produced an odd experience for me…I ate at Chick-Fil-A three times in the same day. Before you assume it is an unhealthy desire for an incredible chicken sandwich (it is), please know that there are no Chick-Fil-A’s within thirty-five minutes of where I live and each of the Chick-Fil-A’s I stopped at were over thirty-five minutes apart. These particular stops left with some unique observations and thoughts.

Stop One: Breakfast chicken may not sound good to you, but there is something right about a bagel that includes egg, fried chicken, and cheese. The experience was a good one. The store was at best half-full, but the people were inviting, the store was clean, and they made a good effort to learn my name…plus the coffee was hot and that is always a winner.

Stop Two: This Chick-Fil-A was hopping. It was dinner time and the place was packed. There were people directing cars in the parking lot, there were extra workers behind the counter, the place was clean, and there was an efficiency that said they were expecting our arrival. In fact, I had barely ordered and turned around to find the group I was sitting with and one of the workers came up to me with my tray of goodness (there was a piping hot Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich and hot waffle fries…everyone should serve hot waffle fries) and looked at me and said Aaron, this is for you. She had watched me order and knew my name. In a sea of faces she knew who she was looking for (the reality probably is that she had done the same for dozens of others, but one always feels special when someone remembers your name).

Stop Three: I had never stopped at Chick-Fil-A three times in one day, but this seemed like a good day to set a record. Plus, the long lines at the last one had led to me skipping going back up for a milkshake. Two hours later in the car I was still thinking about that milkshake…so I stopped at a Chick-Fil-A. It was nearing closing time and my experience was quite different than the other two events. The place was a little dirty, the workers were not all that diligent, and there were insider conversations behind the counter that I felt like my presence had interrupted. There were people there working, but they were not really wanting or ready for new people to show up. The milkshake was good, but the experience was not what I normally see in a Chick-Fil-A. If it was my only experience I may or may not go back (it was not my only experience and I believe it to be an anomaly).

So, what do these three experiences have to do with the church? Local churches produce all three of these experiences every week. Our church has modeled all three at times. The first “church” is the one that is ready, eager, clean, and expecting your arrival. It may not be packed, but they are determined that you will have a great experience and will leave known.

The second “church” is large, but the size is not a deterrent. They are ready for you, their efficiency is a big part of their effectiveness. You feel welcomed even in the large group. Their intentionality and thought to detail help you want to return.

The third “church” is too many of our churches. It is a little cluttered or dirty. There are clusters of conversation in which the new person is not invited. The service includes all kinds of insider language that the new person does not understand. There is not really an expectation for new people to come and many of the people are not thinking about them any way. One of the biggest problems in this church is if you ask the people in the church, they believe they are really friendly…and to those there, they may be

The first two of these models help further the work of the church. The third is a part of the decline in the church. Hospitality should be a mark of the church. The truth is that should extend beyond a weekend gathering, but for many people it is the first experience of a local church. Let’s learn from the good models of Chick-Fil-A…let’s learn names, be gracious, get prepared, think of others first.

 

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#forthelakeshore

#’s are an interesting thing. When I was growing up they were a symbol on a phone. I don’t mean a cell phone because those were not quite around when I was little. Eventually, I learned that the # symbol was used to signify a number or pounds that something or someone might weigh. Today it is a symbol that most commonly refers to what is known as a hashtag. Wikipedia defines hasthags as the following: “A hashtag is a type of metadata tag used on social networks such as Twitter and other microblogging services, allowing users to apply dynamic, user-generated tagging which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content.” It is that last line that I hope we will all grab on to, “…which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content.”

What does that mean for us and why #forthelakeshore? What if over time people began to associate this hashtag with a specific message? What if the message was used in describing an idea? What if that message was wrapped up in the idea that Jesus and His Church are all in for people?

The idea behind #forthelakeshore is simple…God is for this community and so are we. We believe God is for you, for your future, for your family, and for this community. Said differently, God is for us, for our future, for our family, and for our community. Are you catching the theme?

All throughout various media sources, from cable news to social media, we see a constant message about what God and His Church are against. In other words, the world knows what the church is against, but do they know what the church is for? Unfortunately, some of that message comes from those who are a part of the church and call themselves followers of Jesus. We are wanting to change the narrative. We want people to know what God is for…them (and by virtue, us).

Our hope and prayer is that at least along the West Michigan Lakeshore we can change the story of what people think about when they think about the church, Christians, and God. All of this to say, let’s use whatever platform we can to help write a new narrative about what people say or believe about God. We can encourage local businesses, schools, and organizations that God is for them and so are we! If we all use this hashtag well then when someone searches using the hashtag they will begin to see a new message emerging, a message of hope and love.

We are #forthelakeshore

From Reject to Champion

John Shuster, John Landsteiner, Matt Hamilton, and Tyler George are not names most people know. Although that is changing. One used to work at a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store and is now a bartender, one is an engineer, one runs their family’s liquor store, and one is a technician for Spectrum Services. This is a list that doesn’t make you think of great things. However, over a couple days This past February they took over the curling world and won Olympic Gold.

Their story is the type of thing that movies are made from. John Shuster was dropped from the US National Team following the last Olympics. He recruited a couple guys, one who also had been dropped, and they spent a year working without the support of the National Team. They labeled themselves “The Rejects”. This “reject” team overcame the lack of funding, their personal jobs, the time away from family, and they eventually earned their spot representing the US National Curling Team.

Fast forward to now and they have people talking to them about movie deals, sponsorships, and people are even talking about Matt’s mustache. This group of four guys who look like they could be guys you run into at your local bowling alley, grocery store, or anywhere, are the guys who are Olympic Gold Medalists.

They could not have done this on their own. Their story is centered on a belief in one another and in their effort together. Other people may not have seen them as worthy of another shot, but they believed their best was still to come.

I believe this is how God sees us. God desperately wants us to know that we are always worthy of another shot. Even if we feel undervalued, even if we feel unwanted, even if we feel rejected, there is still hope for us. God does, through Jesus, what the US Curling team did, he takes the broken and brings them together to create something better than they could have done on their own.

The Church is to be the people who know there is something not whole in their life and yet, they come to find that together they can do incredible things. What if we truly began to work together for the greater good of what God has? What if we believed God could multiply our effort. What if we truly embraced that none of us is a “reject” and that all of us are worthy of “gold”. What if we made sure that everyone we have ever met is deeply loved by God? I can only imagine the impact that we might have…we might literally change the world.

The day after…

Last night was the Super Bowl. It was a game that was watched by millions of people. It was a game that epitomizes the idea that we should be strong and powerful. It is a game that awards the stronger, bigger, faster, and team who executes the better game plan. It in many ways summarizes the way many of us think about life.

However, I cannot help to think about how Jesus calls us to another way of life. He calls us to vulnerability. He calls us to confession. He calls us to become least and not the greatest. He calls us to serve others and not to think too highly of ourselves. It was interesting as there was a Dodge commercial about serving others that played during one of the commercial breaks and in that commercial they played a part of a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. The message was powerful…it was the wrong context, but still powerful.

The wrong context seems to define so much of our spiritual lives. We buy into the bigger, stronger, faster, better planned out, type of faith. That works some of the time. However, I cannot help, but think we might be better served if we confessed more to one another. What if we took down the façades and we began to embrace the words of James (5:16) more seriously…”Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” I think we believe the prayers of a righteous person are effective, but I am not sure we always believe that the first part is part of what helps us become one of those righteous people.

My prayer for our church and The Church is that we would be even more and more of a people who are radically defined by our “realness,” our confessions. This is not to say God wants us to live in sinful ways of life so that we can confess more. It is to say that the more righteous (right with God), that we become, the more we will recognize our need for confession. Confession makes us feel vulnerable. It is raw. It is authentic. It is a mark of faith in God and one another.

What would it look like if we didn’t try to be bigger, faster, stronger, better planned out followers of Jesus, but we became more real, genuine, and authentic? What would happen if we confessed more? What would that message to the world be? I cannot help but think we might see a more powerful movement of prayer in our lives. I cannot help but think we would not become better servants of one another. I cannot help but think that our lives would then be in the right context and we would be bigger, stronger, and faster in God’s eyes…even if the team we wanted to win the super bowl didn’t win. (I’m a Colts fan…I was rooting for the Eagles!)

New Year, New Sense of Purpose

As we are just a few days into the new year I am not sure we are past the point of making new year’s resolutions. Maybe, you have already failed in some of your new year’s resolution. Or maybe, you are like me and you made one to cut back on desserts for the first three weeks of January to compensate for the last three weeks of December (It is easy to not fail at a resolution if you make it for just a few weeks and you use words like “cut back” instead of “cut out!”).  Either way, my prayer for you and I this new year is a rather simple one to pray and not so simple in terms of living out. The prayer is this: “In this new year may we have a deeper faith.”

It is easy to make a resolution about having a deeper faith, but the hard part is living in ways to make that happen. Our sermon series to start the year has been on stewardship. In other words, how have we managed our time, our gifts and abilities, and our money? I could write quite a bit on each of these items, but I wanted to focus in on the issue of time.

Time is the one resource we cannot replenish, we can earn more money and we can learn a new skill, but we cannot add more time to a day. We cannot go back and change the way we use time. We can determine how we will use our time as we move forward.

Maybe you are like me and you often feel like there is not enough time? I could use about five more hours per day. I want to make sure the church/my job gets my best, but I want to make sure my family gets my best. I need to go work out or else I need to eat less (that’s unlikely to happen). I almost forgot I need to spend more time in prayer because my relationship with God is the most important thing in my life. I need some alone time so I can think about all I need to get done. There is just not enough time!

Paul writes about a few ways to view time in Ephesians chapter 5 when he says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…” Paul begins with a statement that we should not miss. He makes the statement that we are to live as wise people. This seems simple enough, but I believe most of us never ask ourselves if what we are doing is wise or if it is unwise.

Andy Stanley in a sermon used a line that has stuck with me for years and the line is quite simple, “In light of my past experiences, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams, what’s the wise thing for me to do?” This question gets to the heart of what we value. If growing in a deeper relationship with Jesus is a value for us then this question will help lead us in a direction that takes us to a deeper relationship (I am not discounting the work of God’s Spirit, but am assuming we are recognizing the Spirit is always working). If growing in a relationship with Jesus is not a value then Paul’s words still have some value for us.

Finally, Paul says we are to “make the most of every opportunity.” Are you? Am I? Am I making the most of every opportunity with my wife? My children? My friends? My job? The church? Jesus? This is a question we can ask in terms of nearly every aspect of our life. This is a question that I believe we will all look back one day and hope we can see the answer to this as a “yes.” Let’s not waste another moment.

If you and I will ask ourselves these two questions: 1. In light of your past decisions, your present circumstances, and in view of your future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do? 2. Am I making the most of every opportunity? We will see God work in our lives and when we look back we will not say we wasted our time, but we will find that we will have been wise and we will be able to say we made the most of every opportunity. Join me in this new year in asking these questions!

(Previously Posted in 2016)

Generosity

Generosity is a word we like to use, but the implementation is not always good. Sure, we are happy to throw the change in our pocket in the red Salvation Army kettle as we walk out of a store. We are happy to give gifts in gift exchanges. We are willing to buy a nice gift card for someone who has done something special or who has taught our child.

How often do we really practice generosity? The kind of generosity that is planned and executed throughout the year, not just because someone is ringing a bell. The kind of generosity that may even hurt a little financially.

The kids of our church are learning about generosity right now and it reminds me to evaluate my generosity. Just like you, I only have so much time, so much money, and so many other resources. The question you and I must answer is, are we living generously? Do I plan to give? Or do I just give occasionally so I feel better about myself? What about you?

Have you ever stopped to think how the Christmas story is the story of incredible generosity? Somehow, the God of all, came to Earth as a child. I know that picture is hard to swallow.

The birth of Jesus says so much. It says that God wanted us to know He is with us. It says God’s intention was never that we were alone in the world. It says that God’s intention has always been and will always be to be in relationship with us. It says God empathizes with us. It also says God loves us.

The birth of Jesus ushered in, in a new way, what all the Scriptures point toward…a loving God who relentlessly pursues people. The gift of Immanuel “God with us” is generosity in flesh. The eventual death and resurrection of Jesus and the message of God’s grace are models of generosity and gifts of grace.

My prayer for you and I is that this holiday season we may go further than just throwing our lose change in the red kettles. My hope and prayer is that you and I would evaluate our lives and learn to live from gratitude which leads us to generosity. Maybe the saying really is true, “it is better to give than to receive.”

Love and Fear

 

On Sunday, November 5, 2017 there was a group of people who gathered as a community of faith at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. At some point in their morning service there was a shooter who entered the church and 26 people died. This epitomizes evil. If people are created in the image of God, this is the devaluing of God as well as a low view of the value of human life. The responses that have been shared range from grief, anger, shock, and fear.

What is to be the response of followers of Jesus in light of the third deadly church shooting in the United States in the past 3 years? Should we be afraid to attend a church? Should we be cavalier with a call to armed defense? Should we ignore and assume it will never happen to “us?” What if the Scriptures are pretty clear on what our response should be?

What if the words of Jesus are to be our words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.?”

I know, it looks easy to say that from the outside. I wasn’t there in Texas. I pastor a church in another state. My kids are okay. Unlike the pastor of that church who has to bury his daughter, I will tuck my kids in tonight. But, does that lessen the call for us to not let evil win?

My heart breaks for the pastor of that church, I have cried and prayed for he and his family. He and I are co-laborers in the same cause, pronouncing hope and life in the face of evil and death. He and I both proclaim the same message, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection changes everything! His resurrection conquers even death itself! We proclaim the same thing: sin, evil, and darkness do not have the last word.

How then are we to respond? As loving, communities of faith. With the words of 1 John 4:18 ringing in our ears, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” We are called to be a part of communities of faith, a part of the great Church, that is to be defined by radical love.

We will continue to gather, week in and week out, not out of fear, but out of love. We will “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)We will gather as a reminder that hope wins. We will gather as a reminder that love wins. We will gather as a reminder that perfect love drives out fear. We will gather as a symbol that ultimately life wins. Death does not have the last word, because we have hope in the One who conquers the grave. As a community of faith, we will not bury our head in the sand, but we will find our hope and strength where we have always found it, in Jesus. Love Wins.