April 5, 2017

Good People

Gary Thomas — 

By God’s grace, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the people who often make news; because some of them happen to be conservative Christians who occasionally take politically unpopular stands, the news isn’t always so kind. Then you meet them face to face and are overwhelmed by the quality of faith and kindness and generosity, not to mention competence and hard work that marks their lives.

One such day I want to remember was February 8 at the Hobby Lobby corporate offices in Oklahoma City. Hobby Lobby is a $4.3 billion business that started with David Green and his young family making wooden frames. It has grown to over 700 stores across the United States, and they are aggressively adding about 60 stores a year.

David Green is a man of deep faith. His father was a pastor and all his siblings became or were married to pastors. David, alone, went into business—and what a business. It was overwhelming to get a personal tour of the campus and see all that is involved in running such a huge enterprise. The warehouse operation comprises over nine million square feet. The conveyor belt system that carries merchandise to trucks going out to the stores fascinated me. Thousands of boxes fly by at about five miles an hour to fill up the trucks. It looks like a science fiction movie to see the mechanized efficiency and speed of that conveyor belt system.

The Greens give huge sums of money away, focusing on five major charities. Rather than giving a little to everyone who asks, they want to make a big difference—and they have. David lives by the example of his mother who, though very poor when David was a child, would figure out the value of a dress given to her by someone and tithe on that value. There’s a sculpture in the hallway given by a Christian institution that likely wouldn’t exist if the Greens hadn’t offered both financial and business advice during a particularly tight time in that ministry’s history.

Hobby Lobby gives every full-time employee a minimum wage of over $15 an hour—whether the employee sweeps the floor or packages frames. They also have an area designed to provide jobs for people with developmental disabilities. And there’s a medical clinic on campus for employees that includes free MRIs. This company is doing so much good, though they have been chastised simply for not wanting to offer abortifacients to their employees as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (they have no issue with birth control, just with abortifacients).

I began the day by speaking to the executive team at Hobby Lobby—a couple hundred people, I’d guess—on Cherish. David Green, the founder, then spent 30 minutes showcasing and cherishing his wife in front of everyone in honor of their 56th anniversary, something he has never done in a business meeting. He didn’t know what I’d be speaking on (my invitation was arranged by someone else). The way he spoke of his wife’s character and faith moved all. It was so lovely to see a couple married over 55 years so in love with each other. Many people marveled at how well my talk on Cherish set up his presentation, something that wasn’t planned by either of us but ended up being very special. It was one of those “God things.”

Steve Green, David’s son, then gave me a tour of the Museum of the Bible holdings, financed by the Green Family and Hobby Lobby. The actual museum will open in Washington, D.C. this November. I got to see original letters from John Wesley, an annotated sermon by Charles Spurgeon, antiquities dating back to the time of Abraham, hundreds of scrolls of the Torah, the Revolution Bible, and so much else. Steve has a dream to show how well the biblical manuscripts have been preserved and to tell the true story of the Bible.

It was fascinating to see Steve hold a copy of the “Bible of the American Revolution,” one of the most scarce Bibles in the world.  After the colonies declared their independence, England wouldn’t allow Bibles to be imported. So the early U.S. Congress voted to spend $10,000 to get Bibles from Holland or Scotland or anywhere they could find them.  This modern notion that the founding fathers who would agree to authorize taxpayer money (because of war expenses the money was never actually spent) to get more Bibles into the country would somehow find governmental celebration or mention of the Bible, including the Ten Commandments, as “unconstitutional,” shows us how little we know our history. The Bible of the American Revolution was printed here in the U.S. to get around the English importation ban.

The museum is going to be phenomenal—a must stop for any believer who finds herself or himself in the nation’s capital.

Hobby Lobby now carries some select Christian books—thus my visit. Steve Green calls Sacred Marriage one of his favorites and, thank God, chose it as one of the books to offer. Christian bookstores are facing difficult times—Hobby Lobby takes books to people who would never go into a Christian bookstore, or to communities that can’t support a Christian bookstore. The day after I visited, I was given the wonderful news that they’d also be carrying Cherish. So if you haven’t gotten a copy yet and there’s a Hobby Lobby nearby, I’d consider it a personal favor if you stopped off to buy a copy there.

Overall, I was struck by the goodness of this company, the amount of philanthropy, the number of families employed by one man’s vision that started out making wooden frames. They provide livable wages and a supportive work environment. It was such an inspiring day.  And the children and grandchildren are amazing young adults of faith with an admirable work ethic. David’s extended family is an even stronger testimony to his legacy than the size of his business.  Since my son is now getting an MBA (a foreign world to me), I gained a new appreciation and perspective for how much good and how much influence a Christ-based, God-honoring business can unleash. That might be part of the reason I was so overwhelmed.

Spending time with the Greens reminded me of spending time with Bubba Cathy, son of the Chick-Fil-A founder and his wife a couple years ago. Bubba’s wife Cindy told me Bubba is the finest Christian man she has ever known—and her face was glowing as she said it. Touring the campus of a ministry Chick-Fil-A has built, I noticed many houses that are given for free to single mothers and foster families. Chick-Fil-A also has a vital marriage ministry. But because they have taken a stand for traditional Christian values as to how marriage should be defined—one man and one woman—they get attacked in spite of all the good they do.

When you meet these people, you see genuine love, caring and generosity surrounded by a hard-work ethic and an abiding faith. Don’t let slanted news reports that focus on one issue let you believe, for a second, that these people are motivated by a sliver of hate. They spread more love, support and charity than every protestor in this country combined.

It is a blessing that I have gotten to meet some of them face to face, and past the time that I take whatever platform I have to tell the truth about the amazing things that happen when people of faith work hard, provide jobs and do good works in the name of Jesus. We need so many businesses in this country—and thank God that some of them are run by people who fear God and love others. It’s so marvelous to see it in action.

As a pastor, I have looked into the wearied and tired faces of the unemployed. I have not thanked business owners nearly enough for what they provide to marriages and families. We salute you and celebrate you. And thank you, Steve Green, for giving me such a fabulously inspiring day that I will long remember.

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7 responses to Good People

  1. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What an amazing story! Thanks Gary for sharing the Green’s family inspiring gifts. Especially, the part about employee health benefits, and pay whether it be sweeping the floors; or packaging wooden frames. The atmosphere seems sooo Christian based– and that’s awesome!

    I have been divorced over 30 plus years now, and my ex has passed on. But I find myself reading about Christian marriages here on your site, and they are so up lifting! I want to thank you, and your beautiful family for sharing your lives with me, and the world…

    I see that the focus on Marriages has been a Major Topic…and I do know that the adversary work very hard at separating this unity! You really have to be Grounded and Rooted in Christ to fight off such force of action …It definitely, require Praying and sometimes both– Fasting and Praying…God Bless

  3. Joseph Crawford April 5, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks for the powerful presentation of the gospel in the workday world.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I was so blessed by this article. May God continue to bless these two families that continue to be a blessing to others.

  5. Lindsey Pennella April 5, 2017 at 8:02 am

    And Jesus started as a carpenter. Interesting stuff. Thanks Gary!!

  6. We need more people to make this kind of impact – in the world, where Christians are needed. Too many Christians only have an impact on other Christians – which is great, but we need that impact on the world. To live loved and show love each and every day. Very inspiring – thank you!

  7. Thank you so much for highlighting these two companies. I give them my business because I remember what my father said years ago when I was little, “You vote with your wallet. You can say anything, but you vote with your wallet.” This conversation came about because I was sad that he cancelled our subscription to a family magazine that featured puzzles and games when he found out it was owned by Playboy Magazine.