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Life Lessons I Learned From S. Truett Cathy's Funeral

Life Lessons I Learned From S. Truett Cathy's Funeral

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1

I was honored and blessed to be one of several thousand who attended Truett’s funeral on September 10, 2014. I arrived two hours early and sat 40 feet from the casket. I was there out of deep respect and to support my friend Woody who was one of the speakers. Hundreds of others watched via video in the overflow area and in the Chick-fil-A staff offices. News reporters gathered outside, but what took place inside was a piece of history that only a Jesus follower could fully appreciate. Truett represented goodness, common sense and decency. He was not a celebrity, but a servant. Though we only met twice, I wept because I felt like I had lost a friend whom I loved.

Here are the lessons I heard from this life changing two-hour celebration of a life well spent:

God Matters

Truett was fond of asking, ‘Who is your master?’ He knew we are all slaves to something: ourselves, Satan, sin, work, money, fame, ego and pride are all competitors. But those who choose allegiance to Almighty God are servants to a loving and holy heavenly Father. We want to be like and please the one who matters us. For Truett, it was following the commands of his savior Jesus Christ. He closed on Sunday to benefit his team, but mostly to obey and worship His Master.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23).

Character Matters

Yes, Truett’s life verse was, ‘A good name is more desirable than great riches’. His S. initial stands for the Old Testament prophet Samuel, and he was named after the famous Baptist preacher George W. Truett. Even his name was a good name! His word was his bond. Integrity was etched in his soul and hard work embedded in his heart. He was fiercely loyal and expected loyalty in return. He treated every human being with dignity and had a ‘my pleasure’ mindset toward those he served. He had a heart of gold because it was filled with God. His high standards attracted team members with high standards. Yes, quality produces quality!

Humility Matters

Truett never forgot where he came from and was frugal with God’s financial favor. He grew up in poverty and was faithful with a little, so the Lord was able to trust him with a lot. Generosity was his vaccination against the ugly ailment of greed. As my wife Rita says, “He was a box turtle on top of a fence post that knew he had help getting there.” Floor sweepers to CEO’s counted him a friend. God gives grace to the humble and Truett was filled to capacity. In God’s economy, a humble man is a prosperous man and a proud man is a poor man. He prospered abundantly!

Family Matters

Truett’s second foundational question is ‘Who is your mate?’ While dating our daughter Rebekah, my son-in-law Todd asked Truett for his best business advice. Without hesitation, he said to marry the right woman. Spend your life with one who is your partner, supporter and number one advisor. Not only did he love, respect and cherish his bride, he invested in his children. He intentionally modeled and taught hard work and generosity. He took them to church where he taught middle school boys for 50 years. His son, Bubba said, “Dad taught us to not take ourselves too seriously, but to take our work very seriously.” He loved his family.

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect” (1 Peter 3:7).

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

A Friend Matters

Truett’s best friend was his pastor, Dr. Carter. They confided in each other. They laughed and cried together. They traveled for work and fun. They had long talks and prayed to the Lord in praise and with weighty petitions. Truett valued friendship, for it drew him closer to his friend who would stick closer than a brother–Jesus. Friendship brought him healing, joy, and perspective. A friend was God’s gift to encourage him to carry on with Christ. A friend matters.

Purpose Matters

Truett had a crystal clear purpose for life and work: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” His purpose was his filter for decision-making; if it did not align he said no. Once he and his leadership team debated going into significant debt so they could surpass the competition. Finally Truett said, “I am tired of debating over our need to grow bigger. If we focus on getting better, our customers will demand that we get bigger.” His purpose defined his priorities.

Fun Matters

Truett was fond of saying, ‘If you are not having fun, something’s wrong!’ Andrew told a practical joke of his grandfather’s. The Cabbage Patch Doll came out when Andrew was an infant. So, at a family gathering, Truett stood on the porch with the Cabbage Patch Doll cuddled in his arms. As a family member approached the steps, Truett acted like he stumbled and dropped the doll onto the ground. He howled in laughter as the loved one looked on in shock! Dirt bikes were also a main staple for his Sunday school boys to enjoy on Saturday after they weeded his garden!

“A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22, Amplified Bible).

One Child Matters

Truett’s heart for children is legendary. Like our Lord’s tender heart toward little ones so was his. All four of our daughters attended Camp Winshape, which he started at Berry College in the early 1980’s. What a loving environment to have fun and in the process, learn life skills like responsibility, communication, teamwork, and adventure. I always enjoyed hearing Truett address the kids in his loving, folksy, and practical manner. Foster homes, orphans, and widows were also a large part of his Kingdom investment dollars. He knew one child had great potential in life. As Woody emotionally, but eloquently said, “He showed the orphan (me), how to love the widow.”

Education Matters

Truett has given millions of dollars in college scholarships. But before he could afford to help hundreds of students he helped one. Eddie, a 12-year-old, asked Truett for work just after the Dwarf Grill opened in 1948. Truett gave him odd jobs like picking up litter in the parking lot and cleaning tables. When Eddie turned 18 he couldn’t afford college, so Truett raised the funds through friends and family. Eddie soon graduated, taught school and served on the Board of Education. Now in his 70s, he stood at the funeral to say, “Thank you, Truett!” Education matters.

Finishing Well Matters

Throughout his life and to the very end, Truett kept his eyes on the prize–Jesus Christ. How could he disappoint the one who captured his heart and deserved his 100% devotion? He knew by finishing well he would hear “Well done!” from his heavenly Father. He knew by his finishing well, it would increase the probabilities of those who loved him the most also finishing well. He celebrated the past, lived fully in the present and was hopeful of the future. Thanks, Truett. I want to finish well like you. His reply, “It’s my pleasure!”

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, like Your humble servant, I want to finish well for Your glory.

Related Readings: Deuteronomy 8:16-18; Joshua 1:8-9; Philippians 4:8; James 1:27

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