How Nashville Hot Chicken Brings Out the Best in People

You can find Prince’s Hot Chicken in a beat up old strip mall in East Nashville. Nashville Hot Chicken has become quite the phenomenon in recent years, but Prince’s has been around since The Great Depression. Going there for lunch on a Thursday afternoon is one of the finest social experiments you’ll ever see. It’s not only the food that’s great. The people watching is, as well.

Thursdays are the only day of the week you can get four chicken fingers and bread for $6.00. When we got there near noon on a Thursday, the line was almost to the door. There are about seven tables in the restaurant and every one of them was full. As people waited in line they chatted, or waited patiently. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Who wouldn’t be? They were about to eat Nashville Hot Chicken.

The restaurant doesn’t exactly seem like the cleanest place. But they scored a 93 on their last Health Inspection. In fact, the place is so popular that the two guys in line behind us drove all the way from Chattanooga to have their tongues burn with cayenne goodness. Tourists took photos in front of the window outside. Mixed in were locals who are obvious regulars.

And everyone got along. There was no pushing or shoving. People of all political persuasions and ethnicities enjoyed their chicken — and each other — just the same. When tables became available there was an unwritten rule that the people waiting first would get it. Some even shared tables. An older out-of-town couple from one place occupied a table with a younger out-of-town couple from another. There were obvious Christian references all over the walls and the t-shirts workers were wearing.

We probably waited an hour from the time we entered the place until we began eating our chicken. It was worth every minute. The food was great (I’m still sweating!) and the people were pleasant.

Nothing fancy. Just good food. Decent customer service. Hard working people putting it all together. And friends, neighbors, and tourists sharing a local delicacy.

Is Nashville Hot Chicken what it’s going to take to mend some of the fences we’ve built? If so, maybe there should be a Prince’s Hot Chicken in every city.

We could use a whole lot more of that good-natured spirit in our country today. What do you say we make a concerted effort to do it ourselves, even without the chicken?

Where have you seen people of all persuasions getting along?

What Chocolate Cake Taught Me About Art

If I can help it, I’ll never eat cake someone makes out of a box from the grocery store. I’ve been spoiled. My birthday comes around about this same time every year (!). When it does, my wife treats me with a made-from-scratch birthday cake. The recipe is her grandmother’s. It’s handwritten by Granny herself. And it includes things like buttermilk (when was the last time you bought that?!) and chocolate baking squares. To top it off it’s covered in buttercream frosting. To. Die. For.

I dare you to bake a cake from a grocery store box. Then bake one from scratch. Do a taste test. There is no question in my mind that you will much prefer the one that’s made from scratch. The grocery store box cake will be dry and lifeless. The one made from scratch will be moist, dense, and filled with flavor. It’s a work of art.

When I ate that deliciousness again this year it taught me something. A little extra effort, care, and fine ingredients make a world of difference. It could be compared to coloring in a coloring book as opposed to drawing freehand. Or paint-by-number instead of an original painting. Paint-by-number never looked good to me. There is no blending of the colors.

Here’s the lesson: In your daily work — in the art that you create — don’t paint by the numbers. Whenever possible, don’t use a box cake. Be daring enough to start from scratch. Even a little bit more effort can make a big difference in quality. More love and care in your project will set it apart. Ingredients that are a step above may be more expensive, but the quality will bring back your customers or consumers.

Seth Godin likes to talk about the fact that far too many corporations are on a “race to the bottom.” They use the cheapest labor and materials to get things to market and sell them. Quality and creativity are lost.

You don’t have to be that way. You can put extra effort, care, and fine ingredients into your work and art. You can bake a cake from scratch. The people who eat it will notice the delicious difference.

When have you noticed a home made difference?

How to Write Something that Gets People to Take Action

No matter what you do you have to know how to write. More than that, there will come a time when you have to write something that causes people to take action. Whether you are in sales, marketing, teaching, or ministry, you are a salesperson. You may have to sell an item, a concept, a course, or an idea.

Today I heard a master copy writer speak about how to write things that move people to take action. He narrowed the whole process down to four steps. When you are writing copy that converts, it’s important to do these four things:

  1. Here’s who I am. Your reader needs to know who you are. It’s important to make a personal connection. Start by sharing something about yourself with which your targeted reader will identify.
  2. Here’s what I have for you. Once you have introduced yourself, show your reader what you have for her. Whether it’s an item, a concept, a course, or an idea, explain it with colorful and creative language.
  3. Here’s why it matters to you. If any of these four steps would be the key, this is the one. Your reader won’t buy or take action unless what you are “selling” matters to her. Speak into the heart and mind of your reader as best you can.
  4. Here’s what I want you to do next. Create a call to action. Be specific. Don’t be afraid to ask. Refuse to back down.

This structure would work for:

  • a sales email
  • a sermon (with proper distinction between Law and Gospel)
  • a newsletter article
  • a lesson plan
  • a Facebook post

Here’s what I want you to do next: Try writing something according to this structure. 

How do you get people to take action?

Using an Audacious Challenge to Get Results

Darkness in and of itself is a challenge. When you couple darkness with a place that should be shining with light, it becomes a true test. Such is the case in our church’s sanctuary. The fixtures are original with the building, circa 1973. Bulbs burn out and can’t be replaced. Wiring that’s forty feet off the floor has to be inspected. LED bulbs would bring 21st century light to the situation.

Do you have any idea how much it costs to upgrade lights in a church? Take a guess. Consider: new fixtures, new wiring, new dimmers, the cost of labor, rental of a hydraulic lift. Before you know it the total is at least $75,000.

Most churches don’t just have $75,000 lying around. Ours certainly didn’t. So in January the Church Council decided to present our congregation with an audacious challenge: Raise pledges of at least $75,000 by the end of February, or we won’t move forward with the project. It was a wise move. People are tired of the dimly lit room. They want to be able to see very important Words. And people tend to give monetary resources to things that are tangible — like lights that will help them see every Sunday.

So we had roughly six weeks to raise commitments of $75,000. It was a true step of faith. People told me they didn’t think we could do it. But I’ve seen it done before. I watched a central city congregation I served raise the money to build a $2.5 million addition to a school.

Sometimes people simply need to be challenged. They need a compelling reason and a strong goal in order to move forward. That’s what we had. And it meant that we reached the goal even before the deadline.

So we took another step. We presented our people with a “stretch goal.” If we could raise $90,000 we could also take care of some of our outdoor lighting, as well as the lighting in our other buildings. As I write this we stand at about $82,000.

It’s amazing what people will do when they are challenged. Divine intervention and human competitiveness, along with an added dose of self-interest, have completed many a project and reached many a goal.

This isn’t just true for churches and organizations. It is also true for individuals.

So I’m challenging you today to set for yourself a goal that you’ve always thought was just a bit out of your reach. Write it down. Post it in a prominent place. Set a deadline for yourself. Have someone hold you accountable.

I’m betting that you’ll get results. You might even pleasantly surprise yourself and move past it to something bigger and better. Go ahead. Take the step today.

What audacious challenge have you placed before yourself, and then went ahead and made it happen?

Three Reasons Pain Is Actually Good for You

Today our two-month-old grandson got his first shots. I believe the quote from his mother was: “Poor guy screamed and cried so hard he turned red and could barely breathe. But he calmed down fast and is now sleeping.” The little pinch of those shots is necessary to keep away the much more devastating pain of illness and disease.

Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, intentionally makes things uncomfortable for himself. Tim has written numerous bestselling books, has been involved in multiple start-up companies in Silicon Valley, and has a wildly successful podcast. He could be very comfortable, sit back relax, and be lazy.

But he puts adversity in his own path. He works out religiously and is careful about the food he puts in his body. He’s learned it from other successful people. He knows that no one, no matter how rich, goes through life without difficulty. We might as well be ready for it.

I confess to being lazy sometimes. It’s so much easier to simply remain comfortable, neglect exercise, and eat whatever I want. But becoming mentally tough and doing difficult things is often the better way to go. Here’s why:

  1. Pain now prevents pain later. Like our little grandson’s temporary discomfort, our own pain now will prevent greater pain later. The “pain” of exercise and eating right will prevent the greater difficulty of too much weight, disease, or getting back into shape later on down the road. Other types of pain in our lives do the same.
  2. Adversity builds character. If things are always comfortable, when diversity comes it can be devastating. But if we train ourselves with smaller adversities now, they will make difficulties down the road (perhaps?) a bit easier to take. Character is a much undervalued virtue in this day and age.
  3. Our own pain enables us to help others through theirs. Not only is this practical, it is also biblical. The Bible teaches us that sometimes we go through difficulty so that we can help others. Our experience with a certain adversity will enable us to help others who celebrate that very same adversity.

Adversity and difficulty right now can be a gift. Let’s try to look at it that way. In a sinful world, pain is inevitable. We pray that it will be minimal. And we pray that it will help us to help others.

What other reasons do you have that pain can actually be good for us?

What It’s Like to Be Born Into a World of Innovation

I got to babysit my eight-week-old grandson yesterday. Our daughter had to go to the dentist, our son-in-law had a meeting, and my wife had to substitute teach. It was my day off, so I got the text: “Would you want to come watch Crosby?” Um. Do you even have to ask? I would move heaven and earth to spend some time with my favorite little boy. Being with Crosby made me realize that this little boy is surrounded by innovation.

Crosby and I spent about an hour-and-a-half all by ourselves. And Grandpa did just fine, thank you. I carried him around the apartment. He fell asleep. His Uncle Ben called and woke him up, so we face-timed with Uncle Ben for a little while. Pretty soon a diaper needed to be changed (yes, I still remember how to do that). Then we played on his little play mat. Before we knew it Mommy came home.

As we spent a little time together I began to think about all the innovation Crosby already has in his little world. He has an Amazon Echo Dot in his house that can set a timer for his nap or play lullaby music. His pack n’ play has everything but the kitchen sink. The monitor attached to his bed plays video to an app on an iPhone. Even his diapers don’t have sticky tabs. Don’t ask me how, but they attach without “tape” like diapers used to.

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, recently described today’s world as a place that “values innovation more than anything else.” We can debate the value and morality of that statement. But there’s no arguing the fact that our world is filled with innovation that is greatly valued. That’s the world that Crosby has been born into.

He will never know what it’s like to live without a cell phone, a computer right on his desk, or the internet. He will always know the conveniences of innovation. He’ll be able to do things past generations only dreamed of. When he wants to he’ll be able to book his own vacation online. All the information in the world’s libraries will be right in his own hand. When he wants to see (live!) the face of a friend on the other side of the world, he’ll be able to do that.

Now Artificial Intelligence is coming down the pike. Machines are being taught to think like human beings. Who knows where that will lead? It’s both scary and exciting at the same time.

So here’s what I will try to teach Crosby in this innovative world:

  • Use technology with gusto, but always be wary and respectful of it.
  • Learn how to be bravely creative.
  • Don’t be afraid to innovate. It will do you well in life.
  • Don’t always rely on technology. Find opportunities to use your own brain without any technological help.
  • Love people before innovation.

I hope I get to babysit again soon. I’m sure it will inspire yet another blog post. (Love you Croz Man!)

What would you add to the above list?

The Not-So-Secret Power of a Deadline

They’ve worked for you before, but maybe you’ve forgotten. Sometimes you wonder why you don’t get anything accomplished. There is procrastinating, time wasting, and a checklist with no checks. Then someone gives you a deadline and you move heaven and earth to finish not just on time, but ahead of time.

Our son, Ben, is a musician in Nashville, Tennessee. He is self-proclaimed perfectionist. When he writes and records music it tends to be at a snail’s pace. He wants every last note, mix, and tone to be perfectly perfect. And that takes time.

But now that he’s relying more on his music for income it’s a different story. Recently a deadline came before him in an unexpected manner. He was selected to perform at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. When the music company he works for heard he was going to South By Southwest they wanted to help him make the most of it. So they gave him a deadline to finish an EP he’s been working on. They figured if they could release the EP immediately following South by Southwest they could get a promotional bounce for it, along with Spotify playlists, and potentially commercials or TV shows.

So they gave him a deadline. Never have I seen Ben work so fast on his music. Not only did he have a deadline, but he in turn gave one to the musicians and producers with whom he was working. Now everyone was on the same page. It was sometimes a headache to get everything coordinated. There were a few tense times. But…

The EP was finished on time. In fact I heard the final masters of it this past week. (Watch for it at the end of this month.) Even Ben needed reminders along the way that he was going to have to put his perfectionism to the side. One of his producers said: “You have to remember that no record is perfectly perfect. Each one is simply a snapshot in time. Let the art, at that moment in time, stand for itself.”

So set deadlines for yourself. Or better yet, have someone else set some deadlines for you (the accountability will be that much better).

And let each finished project be a snapshot in time. Let the art of that completed work stand for itself. Then take stock of what you learned. Move on to the next project. And improve.

A deadline is a good thing.

What deadline can you set for yourself today?

It’s the Right Time of Year for Dreaming

The other night I had a dream about Donald Trump. Bizarre, I know. But that’s not the kind of dreaming I want to talk about in this post. I want to talk about the kind of dreams that inspire, propel, and move you forward toward a goal or objective. Now is the time of year to do just that.

Here’s why. The New Years’ glitter has worn off. We’ve entered the third month of the calendar. Now we’re down to the nitty gritty. Those goals you set at the beginning of the year — or even last year — are further in the rear view mirror (unless you’ve been reviewing them every week, hint hint). You’re probably back into the routine of the “non-holiday” time of year. That’s why it’s time to take major steps toward your dreams.

It would be wise right now to make some plans for the rest of the year. Those plans ought to be jumping off points that will fulfill or make major strides toward the things you want to accomplish this year. Not only that, but they will give you something to which you can look forward.

For instance, I’ve got three big things that have me brimming with excitement and anticipation:

  • I’m going to a one-day writing workshop presented by one of my favorite authors. It will benefit the writing that I do both vocationally and avocationally.
  • My wife, Tammy, and I are attending a two-day workshop on social media and online presence. It will help both Tammy’s business and the ability of our church to share some Good News.
  • We are planning a trip this summer to England and Italy. It’ll be the first time Tammy will have ever had the opportunity to travel overseas. The only other time I’ve been out of the country was when I went to Israel seventeen years ago. I can only imagine the writing it will inspire for me.

In the mean time I’m dreaming about all of these things. One of the great gifts of God is the anticipation of wonderful things. I believe He gives us this gift because we have something to anticipate that is far greater than our greatest earthly dream.

So take some time this weekend to make some plans. Dream a little bit, save a little bit, and research a little bit so that you can do a few things that will be a jumping off point for bigger and better things. Maybe even take a leap this year and do the one thing you’ve always wanted to do but makes you afraid.

You won’t regret it.

What has you dreaming today?

The Surprising Benefits of Losing

By now you’ve seen the clip. La La Land was announced as the recipient of the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture. Cast and crew climbed up to the stage. There were smiles all around. Nearly all the speeches had been given. Then the bombshell dropped. The wrong envelope was opened and read. The true winner of the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture was Moonlight. The cast and crew of La La Land awkwardly filed off the stage. It’s tough to be on the losing end…especially when you thought you won.

Can you imagine being in that position? I bet you can. You’ve been in that position. You thought you were getting the promotion. Then someone else got it. You thought the check up was going to be fine. Then you discovered you were going to have to have surgery. You were on the favored team. Suddenly you found yourself on the losing end.

It feels horrible. No one likes to lose. Especially if you thought you were going to win.

I’m sure the cast and crew of La La Land are still trying to get over the disappointment and “what ifs.” But a little maturity and a little historical perspective after the passing of time will show us how losing can actually be winning.

I would suggest that losing can provide for you these wins:

  • Learning how to be a gracious loser…is a win.
  • Observing something the winners did that you didn’t…is a win.
  • Seeing God’s grace at work when losing takes you in a surprisingly unexpected direction…is a win.
  • Discovering that you have deeper and more enduring character…is a win.
  • Finding an opportunity to try again with new lessons learned…is a win.

What surprising thing have you learned and discovered from losing?

When Human Touch Makes All the Difference

Lavern is 98 years old. She’s under hospice care. Who wouldn’t need human touch at that moment in life. I walked into her room to see her lying in her bed. Her eyes were wide open. She was in a much perkier mood than the last time I saw her. The black and white war movie was blaring out of her TV. When she saw me she immediately smiled.

I sat down next to her bed. Then I handed her a little devotion book that she requested. Another smile came across her face. She opened it and started reading out loud Psalm 63: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you….” And her voice trailed off.

As it did she lifted her hand toward mine and gave it a touch. I knew she wanted to hold my hand so I cradled hers in mine. She looked intently at my hand and said: “You have a ring.”

I said: “Yes, I do.”

She said: “I don’t have one. But that’s all right. …You have a ring.”

I said: “It’s my wedding ring”

She asked: “How many years?”

I had to quickly count the years in my head, and said: “Almost thirty-two.”

She just smiled and sat there in silence holding my hand. She dropped her hand and began reading her little book once again. Then she looked at me and said: “I don’t have a ring.”

And I said: “That’s OK.”

Once again she took my hand again and sat there in silence with a smile on her face. This woman on her death bed was in need of simple human touch. I was glad to provide it.

After I left, out of curiosity I read the rest of Psalm 63. Here’s what I saw:

…I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Today I felt like a messenger of God sent to hold the hand of woman who’s lived nearly a century. I am unworthy. But sometimes human touch makes all the difference in life’s most monumental moments.

More than that, it is the right hand of the Almighty that holds her. And when her most monumental moment finally comes it will be His hand that ushers her home.

When has human touch meant the most to you?