Stacey and Gary

There’s a Toot ‘n Totum gas station and convenience store on 15th and Washington, about two blocks west of our church building. I’m in that store almost every morning getting my large iced tea and, when I’m having a certain kind of day, in the afternoon for a Diet Dr Pepper. Stacey is the manager there and Gary  is one of her clerks.

The location of that store means there are all kinds of people who come in: those experiencing homelessness, the economically disadvantaged who live in the area, the transients coming and going on I-40, and all those on their way to and from work. It can be a three-ring circus in there sometimes. There’s the occasional drama in the parking lot. And Stacey and Gary consistently demonstrate grace and kindness to everyone.

Everybody knows Stacey and Gary by name and they know all their customers by name, too. It reminds me of the TV show “Cheers.” Everyone is warmly greeted when they walk through the door, most by name, and everyone is made to feel welcome. It’s a great way to start the day.

The #sentbycentral missions envelope I received in church Sunday contained a $10 bill and I used it this morning to provide a hot breakfast for Stacey and Gary. Ten dollars is not going to change anybody’s life, but it’s all I needed for a Christian act of God’s grace. So with the temperature outside in the teens, I took Stacey and Gary a classic Whataburger breakfast: egg and sausage sandwiches on jalapeno-cheddar biscuits and bacon and sausage tacquitos. And a large Diet Dr Pepper for Stacey.

I told them how they reflect God’s glory in the way they treat all their customers. I told them how they bless me and everyone who walks into that store with their kindness and generosity. I expressed my appreciation for the way they show such concern for their customers and how they try to make and maintain connections. I told them that what they do gives everybody in this neighborhood a place to belong, a sense of community, and that’s also in the category of what our God wants for his children.

When I got to the church building I called the Toot ‘n Totum headquarters here in Amarillo and bragged on Stacey and Gary and their store at 15th and Washington. I told the woman on the phone that the way Stacey runs her store is a blessing to all of us. I told her that store is a tremendous asset to the neighborhood. The woman said she was glad to hear my compliments because she normally only hears complaints.

So, yeah. It seems really, really small. It’s breakfast in a bag on a random Wednesday morning. My prayer is that God uses the breakfast and the compliments to bless Stacey and Gary, to give them a small taste (literally and figuratively) of the goodness of our God and of his love and grace for them in Jesus Christ.

I pray that folks all over Amarillo are being blessed in similar ways this week through Central, in the name and manner of Jesus. Praise him.




  1. Howard Holmes

    So did you get yourself a little something while at WB?

  2. Allan

    Nope. It’s Ash Wednesday. Prayer and fasting today.

    • Howard Holmes

      Your mention of Ash Wednesday makes me think back about the conversation about grace. I can see someone contemplating the gift and being told that all one must do is acknowledge that Jesus is God’s son and ask for forgiveness.

      He’s thinking, “Yeah, right! How about all these ashes on the forehead and the fasting?” He thinking about your story about the free Vegas vacation that suddenly has him attending long lectures and resisting urges to part with his money. He thinking, “One day I’m saying ‘ Jesus is Lord´ and the next I’m being told to give up dancing and mixed swimming.”

      What I am asking is “what’s the minimum to get the gift?” Will a confession get me to heaven or is this a bait and switch?

  3. Allan

    The minimum? What’s the minimum to get the gift?
    I believe you’re thinking about it all wrong, that you misunderstand the situation.
    If you were on death row because of crimes you know you committed, facing an execution you know you deserved, and the judge walked in one day and volunteered to take your place, went to the chair or took the lethal injection or faced the firing squad on your behalf, would you ask about the minimum requirement to thank his family? What’s the least I can get away with and still honor this guy? What’s the smallest thing I can sacrifice to acknowledge this undeserved gift of life?
    If you’re drowning in the ocean and a guy in a boat throws you a life-preserver, I doubt you go through a series of questions before you grab it. Am I going to have to do more than just say “Thank you?” Am I going to be expected to tell reporters that this boater is a nice guy? Do I want to be in a relationship with this savior for the rest of my life?
    The gift of eternal life from God in Christ is not a Sonic gift card to a person who’s already got it pretty good. It’s healing and wholeness, forgiveness and salvation, restoration and reconciliation, today and tomorrow and for all eternity for a person who’s got nothing. It’s life to a dead guy.
    To ask “what’s the minimum to get the gift” is to misunderstand the whole situation.

    • Howard Holmes

      I’m not trying to play games here. It is my understanding from you that confessing belief in Jesus as God and asking forgiveness is sufficient to go to heaven and avoid hell. If I am misunderstanding you then this is not your position. Your position must be different.

      I am trying to accurately state your position as I understand it. Please correct my understanding.

      Maybe a concrete example would help. Suppose I have confessed and asked for forgiveness. Suppose also that I like to spend my Sunday mornings sleeping late, drinking Bloody Mary’s and cussing at the news programs. Suppose my habits don’t change? My assumption is that you will think that going to church is important. I’m merely asking how that fits into the picture. How is it important? Does it affect my salvation? Why are you trying to get me to do it. That’s what I mean by bait and switch. You’re trying to encourage me to fast, but there was nothing said about fasting when I signed up.

      My question about the minimum is serious. Where do the ten commandments fit into your scheme? Faith only leaves no obvious place for “Do not commit adultery” in the plan. If I am saved by faith only, then why can I not commit adultery if I think it is in my best interest to do so?

      When you and I were raised we knew the answers to these questions. We knew that it was ALL necessary. We knew about the five steps, but also knew they were a waste of time if we used a piano for worship. We knew there were a whole lot more than five steps. But at least my question would be answered. I knew what was required. You tell me faith only is what is required but seem to think I am doing something wrong if I ask “Really!”

    • Howard Holmes

      Clearly I failed to communicate. Please ignore my last two posts and let’s start over. There is still something I am trying to clarify.
      When you and I were young we understood what all the should’s and should not’s were in the Bible. They were commands of God to be taken seriously. To fail to take them seriously clearly jeopardized one’s soul.
      It is now my understanding that your position is that obeying these commands or failing to obey these commands has no effect on where one goes after death.
      Maybe I am missing something. Please either confirm that I correctly understand or else clarify where I err.

  4. Allan

    There is a tension in Scripture and with life as a disciple of Christ. Yes, Howard, there is a cost. To quote Dallas Willard, I think, grace is free, but it’s not cheap. Or is that Bonhoeffer?
    It’s the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure in the field. To accept the gift of eternal life from God in Christ is to surrender all of yourself to him, to trust him completely with all of your life, to come to the understanding that what he wants is for you to live the way he designed you to live. Jesus tells us that if we lose our lives, he’ll give them to us; if we throw it all away for him, we’ll receive it all back and then some; if we’re last, he’ll make us first; if we sacrifice and serve in his manner and name, he’ll give us eternal life and glory forever.
    When Jesus calls a man to follow him, he bids him come and die — I KNOW that’s Bonhoeffer.
    The gift is free. An understanding of the magnitude of the gift and the deep love of the giver should move us to trust that he’s doing what’s ultimately best for us. We should want to follow his guidelines and obey his instructions because they draw us closer to him and to each other and lead to more freedom and joy to live as humans were created to live.
    Ultimately, I believe, this doesn’t come down to a heaven or hell thing immediately. Our Father is patient. And very slow — I don’t care what 2 Peter says. To be on an intentional path of love and obedience, no matter how often I fall, is to live in the grace of God. To refuse to obey, to refuse to live the way God prescribes for his children to live, to intentionally reject God’s plans for me, over time, will separate me from the Father. C. S. Lewis says, at some point, God will say to the child, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
    The way I see it, the gift is free and the justification is immediate. Like a heart surgeon saving your life during a massive heart attack. The doctor puts in four stents and says, in order to continue living, you’ve got to stop eating cheese fries and drinking six beers at 11:00 every night. He’s prescribing what’s best for you. Whether you trust it or not is your call. Salvation is free but, yeah, it does demand a change.

  5. Howard Holmes

    Thanks for this thorough explanation. This makes a lot more sense to me. I think where the old Church of Christ got it wrong was not so much as failing to realize God’s grace but rather failing to realize their own fallibility. It’s hard to appreciate forgiveness unless you realize you need some.

    Personally I think Paul and Luther are the source of confusion on this subject. By taking away the doing that is necessarily part of faith we distort it into something that does not exist. James got the better of this argument. The Church of Christ, at least, gave James his due.

    • Howard Holmes

      My reading of the Bible says that only those who obey God will be saved. Do you agree?

  6. Allan


    • Howard Holmes

      In what way then does your theology part ways with the twenty year old Allan?

  7. Allan

    A bigger picture view of the Kingdom of God, a broader understanding of God’s grace, a narrative hermeneutic that views Scripture as the ongoing story of God and his people as compared to a constitutional reading of Scripture as rules and regulations for God’s people, a bodily resurrection and eternal life with God on a restored earth versus a disembodied spiritual resurrection in a heaven up in the sky, an egalitarian position on women in the Church, the Communion meal as a sacramental means of grace — we’re all continuously growing and learning and changing, right?

  8. Howard Holmes

    I should have been more specific, but thanks for all the interesting information. Your second item is the one that interests me in this discussion. Could you elaborate a bit more on “a broader understanding of God’s grace?” Thanks.

  9. Howard Holmes

    I am still working on trying to get a handle on your view of grace. My guess is that my view of grace at age 20 was similar to yours at that age given similarity in how we were raised. i have detailed below my view of grace at age 20. Maybe you would agree with this as being your view at that age or maybe you would make some adjustments. Please feel free to adjust.

    1. God made humans and gave them rules.
    2. If a human fails to keep these rules perfectly, God is justified in torturing them forever as punishment.
    3. No human has kept the rules perfectly so all deserve infinite torture.
    4. God sent his son to die in some sort of payment for the guilt of others which allows God to save some of those doomed humans. This is called grace.
    5. The saved are those who do certain essential things and who also take all the rules seriously and put some effort in keeping the rules although they fail to keep them perfectly                      .
    6. Some minority of humans obey the essential rules and enough of the other rules to be saved.

  10. Allan

    I would add some nuance to some of these positions as far as I can remember them for myself. God’s love for all people was an important component then, as was Jesus dying to save the whole world, not just a select few. And I don’t think I saw God himself as the one doing the eternal torturing. But, overall, you’re more right than wrong about where I was when I was 20. I mostly understood salvation as an economic transaction: Christ’s atoning death for my faithful obedience. His grace — I’m not sure I ever really heard that word or concept used or talked about — was more about giving me/us a fighting chance.

    I would stress that my faith / theology / understandings are continually changing, constantly evolving. I find it difficult, personally, to think back 33-years and articulate my theological beliefs without reading my current understandings into them. You might have the same difficulty.

  11. Howard Holmes

    You felt that God’s love should be mentioned. I assume it is part of number 1 (making humans) as well as number 4 (sending son to die), so I can add it to these two points..

    You also want to distinguish that Jesus died for all rather than a select few. I would argue that the result of what he did was the salvation of a select few. Was this result intended? It was certainly foreknown (narrow path, etc). I guess you could argue that all COULD be saved, but this has always been the case. All one ever had to do was live perfectly. After Jesus we can say nothing changed except to make it a bit easier so instead of everyone being lost only 90% are. I think your phraseology was perfect: He gave us a fighting chance, as long as we are in agreement that either due to the nature of the “change” or to human nature, most still don t get there. He either could not have done better or chose not to do better.

    That being said we have a pretty good picture of how you used to believe. Now I am trying to understand what you mean by a broader view of grace. If you could, answer that question by specifying how you current view differs from the points we have we have specified.

  12. Allan

    I feel like Jerry in the very last scene of the “Seinfeld” series finale: Haven’t we had this conversation?

    The only way God could have done “better,” in your view, would be to force eternal salvation and a saving relationship with him on everybody in the world. To take people by force, against their will. That doesn’t seem very loving.

    He gave the very best thing for you and me. He gave something that neither you nor I can fully understand. The Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth gave his own life to be in a loving relationship with every man, woman, and child on the planet. That some people choose to reject that gift— your 90% guess is way off — is their call, not God’s.

    It sounds like you underestimate God’s grace. Still.

  13. Howard Holmes

    My last comment was three paragraphs. Paragraph 2 was a mistake and off topic as well. I did not want to discuss my view of grace. Paragraph 3 was the point. I am trying to understand how your view of grace has changed.

Leave a Reply to Allan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For spam filtering purposes, please copy the number 9930 to the field below: