I’ll be patient. I really want to hear you tell that story.
[Still Laughing] The first thing I would like to say is that I don’t mean to throw all Taco Hut bathrooms under the bus. Then I would tell you I think you‘d be better off with the written version.
In Grace is Greater, Idleman writes:
I’m at my dream job because of a disgusting toilet.
Not long after getting my driver’s license, I borrowed my mom’s car to drive to Taco Hut. After eating at Taco Hut, I ran into the house. I came out a little later and saw my mom’s car had rolled down the driveway and smashed through the mailbox. The reason the car rolled down the hill is because I forgot to put it in park because there was no way I was going to use the bathroom at Taco Hut.
The car had significant damage, so I got a job to pay for the repair.
I got a job at the Precious Moments Chapel as a tour guide.
Then one week a small church in town was desperate for a preacher. The reason I felt comfortable preaching that first weekend was because of that job I got when I was 16.
Are you still with me? The reason I have my dream job preaching at an amazing church is because the bathroom of Taco Hut was disgusting.
The significance of the Taco Hut toilet is to show that grace is unpredictable, right?
I was trying to show how God reverse-engineers grace. You don’t realize it until you look back that all these things that seem so messed up, you can really draw a line from there to the good that God was accomplishing. Sometimes we look back and realize we were complaining about a blessing. God’s grace was at work in our lives, but we were too busy grumbling to be grateful for it. It also shows in my own life how God used unexpected and often confusing circumstances to bring me to where I am at now.
OK, other than the Taco Hut toilet, what else brought you to Southeast?
With the church plant in California, I could see some of the challenges ahead in terms of facilities and endless Los Angeles County meetings trying to get land. I knew that was going to be something that I wasn’t gifted to do. I had done an internship at Southeast after graduating college. I knew the culture and sensed the role of teaching pastor would be a good fit. So we came to Louisville 13 years ago.
In your book Grace is Greater, you write that stories are the best way to communicate grace. Why do you say that?
Story captures grace in a way that explanation can’t. The genre of story matches up with the experience of the idea. In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t teach on the word grace specifically but we see grace in stories of beautiful collisions—the places where desperate, messed-up people meet the person of Jesus. Stories allow us to connect powerfully to the experience of grace.
The subtitle of your book includes the phrase, Rewrite Your Story. How does grace do this?
A popular phrase you hear these days is the idea of flipping the script. The story looks like it is going one way and then, unexpectedly, it goes in another. I think grace is not just the idea of erasing the past, it’s starting over. Rewriting a story is even more powerful than starting a new story. He doesn’t take the things that are broken away, but he takes those broken pieces and turns it into something that is beautiful. God’s grace rewrites our lives.
Practically, how does Southeast circulate these stories of grace?
We learn and tell stories strategically and corporately. In our church we do that during baptism most weekends. We get a little peek into a person’s story. We do that with communion and we talk about what God has given us that we don’t deserve. Every week we meet with a small number of people who are new to the church and say, “Hey, how did you end up here?” As leaders, we connect with our people’s stories. One of things we do as elders is gather together every Tuesday morning, and we pray together for people who are struggling in various ways. We learn their stories. As we pray together for God’s redeeming work or conviction or repentance, it aligns our hearts with grace. It almost forces grace front and center.