Tipping Point

You’ve probably heard some of the uproar online about the server at an Applebee’s restaurant who photographed a receipt where a pastor that had dined there wrote the phrase “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” Then a big ZERO was written on the tip line. The story has gone viral online as people and news agencies tried to dig deeper – to determine if this was true or a big hoax.

I was really hoping it was a hoax. I prayed it was the work of an atheist with a grudge against Christians. Unfortunately – it was true. A website – The Smoking Gun tracked down the waitress who posted it and the pastor that wrote the now infamous phrase.

The pastor apologized – sort of – and explained how embarrassing the situation was. Then, called the restaurant to complain what the “cruel” waitress had done and how it had been humiliating. Applebee’s apologized profusely to the pastor and to make amends immediately fired the server. Justice served.

This whole thing drives me absolutely crazy. I don’t really even know where to start thinking through it. I guess the biggest issue is how obvious it should be to everyone who follows Jesus … pastor or otherwise … that our heart is always going to be seen through our actions, regardless of our words. Dave Berry once wrote, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” Man, truer words may never have been spoken. It’s pretty similar to what Jesus himself said in Matthew 25:40 – Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Ultimately nothing good came from this story… the pastor ruined her own reputation and the name of her church. A waitress was given a false example of a Christ-like life and she lost her job on top of it… and millions of people are galvanized in their own negative beliefs about who and what Christians represent. Read this comment I found at the top of one of the pages covering this story… “Stiff the waiter, get them fired. Now, that’s a fine example of Christianity for you. Thank God I’m not one of them.” Yes I do understand how this commenter already had their issues from wherever about “Christianity.” Yes I do understand they are probably always keeping their eye out for a juciy story to back up their own negative beliefs. Yes I do understand how millions of Christians do good things everyday, live their lives in love and truly follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The problem is when a pastor, or anyone else, goes through the extra steps required to identify themselves in writing or verbiage as a Christ Follower and then does something exactly counter to a life pursuit of Jesus that it damages all of us.

So what to do? I mean there are always going to be people who claim Christ and live a life counter to that claim. Actually, all of us at some point or another are going to do something that is outside of God’s desire and calling over our lives.  It’s human nature. But Jesus said we are called to be perfect as His Father is perfect and so we have to handle our mistakes as well as our victories. Take this story for example… Just imagine how different it would have been if the pastor had walked out of the restaurant but allowed herself to examine her actions and had gone back in, found the server and made things right … right then. Apologizing… giving the tip that was deserved… and asking for forgiveness. Or even later when called by the news agency – to swallow her pride and explain how sorry she truly was and then go to the restaurant not to complain and get someone fired but to make restitution and apology.

Here is the final danger I think that comes from this story… is that just as galvanizing as it can become for people who already hate Christians… It can lead to a galvanization amongst some who love Christianity. I mean – it can bring up a certain level of defensiveness or a desire to find justifications in the story… To look at it and say, “We have to look at it from the Pastor’s side… maybe the service was just terrible… or I don’t like forced tipping either – sometimes the service I receive isn’t worth a big tip… or well she said she left a smaller cash tip… or the waitress deserved to get fired for posting a copy of that pastor’s name on the internet…” Maybe some of those arguments resonate with you… The reality is though – there isn’t any justification and any attempt to justify this just makes thing worse and worse. Whatever we do to anyone – we do to our Father. No justifications allowed.

I remember one time – a long, long, long, long, long time ago… When my wife and I were newlyweds. We lived on next to nothing. She was a Public Defender and I worked for next to nothing at a bank. For us a night out, typically meant a night on the couch watching a rented movie with a bowl of popcorn… and that blew our entertainment budget. A date at a restaurant was somewhat rare – unless we had a gift card. One particular gift card was to Olive Garden and we had enough for meals for both of us – if we got water… We would have to leave a cash tip but we searched the couch I think and found enough to leave a tip. Score!

Everything about our meal – the service, the food, the length of time to get our food, the atmosphere – absolutely everything was just completely … awful. I mean – if there was something that could have been wrong, it was. The waitress topped the list for what killed that night for us. She literally did not speak a word to us. When she came to the table to take our order she didn’t even ask what we would like she just stood there with her order pad and pen in hand and stared. It was awkward at best at first – but the longer her terrible attitude went on… the worse mine got. The food was cold – in my mind I pictured her just purposefully leaving it to sit out before bringing it to us. I don’t think I ever got even a single refill on my water… My wife’s meal was wrong but she ate it anyway because she doesn’t like to complain and she is just that sweet.

When the mean waitress brought us our check I looked at the bill and it was literally like .17 cents less than our gift card. Oh man – I was so close in that moment to writing some rude comment on the check and gleefully pointing out to our rude waitress the .17 cent tip she had earned. As always, my wife just let me vent for a few minutes. She didn’t say anything just looked at me that way she does… and I did what I really knew I would do all along. I left the exact amount of cash we had brought with us. Now listen… if you hear that as some sort of bragging or me claiming a right to sainthood because I tipped a mean waitress – please check that. I wasn’t / am not a saint in anyway. I am just about the worst person I know! I was seething as I left that tip on our table… I had terrible thoughts in my mind… I hoped and prayed it was going to make her feel awful when she saw that we left a tip! My heart was a cold, black, barren wasteland… and even in my tipping her – I hoped it brought her misery. She deserved misery in my mind at that moment. She had ruined our date night and here I was tipping her and it would probably just enforce her terrible attitude. Man – I was getting even more angry as I walked away from the table. What was I doing?!? I was giving her reenforcement that having that AWFUL attitude and being a JERK was not just ok… it was tip worthy! As my wife made a pit stop at the restroom, because she has the bladder the size of a walnut and coulnd’t possibly make the 6 minute journey home without flooding the passenger seat… I stood in the lobby and fumed. Then it happened. I shrank to the size of a small, insignificant insect. I felt someone lightly touch my elbow from behind me. I turned to see our waitress standing there… crying. I can’t tell you for sure – but I think that it was me that was silent this time. What in the world was happening? Then she spoke for the first time without a grunt or snarl. She said – “I just wanted to thank you for the tip. It’s practically the first one I’ve gotten tonight. It has been the worst night of my life. About 30 minutes before my shift was to start – my sister called me and told me she had been diagnosed with cancer. She wanted me to come over but when I called in – the manager said I couldn’t take the night off. They were already short handed and he needed me. If I didn’t come in tonight I didn’t need to bother coming in at all. I have spent the whole night angry and hurt and I took it out on you guys and everyone else. I’m sorry.” With that she walked away. And my whole perspective – on lots of things – changed… forever.

Now here is the reality… Whether or not that waitress had a good excuse to be mean or not is not the point. Whether or not me tipping her would have reenforced a bad attitude or helped her cheer up is not the point… The point is that we are not called to justify, we are called to live our lives in love and mercy and grace because it was extended to us. None of us – zero – deserve the love and grace and mercy that God has shown – and continues to show – us everyday. We can never do anything to deserve it… but thankfully we can never do anything to cause God to withdraw it. He just calls on us to Love God, Love People.

I pray that our love for others is never contingent on anything. I pray that if we claim Him, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Everyday. In every way. And that our love is abundant, overflowing, crazy. And I hope, that when you tip… you tip big. A lot more can hinge on it than you might think.

Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.

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