Friday, December 29, 2006

Finishing Strong

As we wrap up another year, it is a good time to think about starting and ending strong. In the performing arts, whether it is drama or music, the opening and closing are most important. The first line of a play or the first stanza of a concert sets the tone for the whole show. Then the very last line or ending of the last song stays with the audience and determines to a large degree their overall feeling about the performance.

In our band rehearsals, we spend a good amount of time on the intros and endings. How do we start the song and how do we end it? We want to end a song (and the show) clean and strong.

This is a good metaphor for life. The first few years of life are extremely important and will serve to set the tone for the rest of our life. But the ending is also important. A surprising number of people do not end well. This week James Brown died. Brown’s importance to popular music cannot be overstated. His titles, “The Godfather of Soul” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” were well earned. I saw James Brown back in 1967 and his performance set new standards as to what was possible on stage. He influenced generations of musicians both black and white. But even a short biography of him must mention his felony convictions and other bouts with the law, mainly in the latter part of his life. James Brown was not a hood who made good, he was a person who grew up in church, became a super-star, and went bad.

He is not the only one. George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, the one man that did more to bring photography to everybody than anybody, died at his own hand. A surprising number of successful business people die bitter. Finishing strong is certainly not automatic and, in fact, requires quite a bit of conscience effort and planning.

It is complicated by the fact that life gets harder at a time when we think it should be getting easier. That makes us angry. We can either give up and become bitter, striking out at anyone who will listen, or we can decide to stay in the game. Play the game until the last out is made or play the song until the last chord is struck. It really is our choice.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

God's love at Christmas

Christmas time is my favorite time of year. Sure I get tired of the commercialism, but love is always just below the surface. People are hurrying around trying to get last minute shopping done, but many if not most, still take time to think about others.

One my wife and my Christmas traditions is to go out to eat at a nice restaurant, just the two of us. We usually do this a few days before Christmas. Since Christmas is usually spent with families, we want a special time for the two of us. We have done this every year for the past 35 years.

As is often the case, this year we went to the Plaza. The Country Club Plaza is our favorite part of Kansas City and our home for a few years until last year. We decided to go to Houston’s for ribs. It seems odd that the best ribs in a barbeque town are not even at a barbeque restaurant, but Houston’s are the best.

As we finished up our dinner, the waitress said, “Oh, by the way, your ticket has been taken care of, you don’t owe anything.” It seems an anonymous person had already paid for our meal. What a joy and blessing to know that someone was willing to share love in such an unselfish way.

Even during a time in my life when resources were much more plentiful than they are now, I never did that.

We have many opportunities to share the love of God with others. Paying somebody else’s ticket at a restaurant is one; but lending a hand to person in need, or an ear to someone who just needs to talk, also shows Gods love.

But why wait until Christmas, I want to show love to those around me every day of the year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's Almost Christmas!

I was at a pancake house in Chicago last week when I overheard the guy next to me complaining about Christmas. He said it was just an old pagan holiday and had nothing to do with Jesus and he wanted no part of it. After I listened to him rant for a few minutes I decided to join the conversation. (One should always listen for a few minutes before joining a conversation already in progress.)

I agreed that December 25 was originally the day that the Romans celebrated the birth of the sun. But when Constantine became a Christian in the fourth century, he changed it to the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus – the son. Constantine wanted to honor Jesus’ birth and also give credibility to Christians by giving them a holiday. Since the actual date of Jesus’ birth was unknown, he took an existing holiday, by then associated with a pagan custom, and converted it to Christmas. You can do that sort of thing when you are the Emperor. We have been celebrating December 25, Christmas, as the birth of Jesus for nearly 1,700 years.

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays because it reminds me of Jesus’ humanity. Even though He was God, He chose to be born as a baby, raised in a working class family, and preach love, forgiveness, and a simply lifestyle. Like the man in Chicago, I too am a little put off by people spending huge amounts of money to celebrate the birth of a man that they don’t know or hardly care about.

In modern day America where a person’s value is determined by how much “stuff” he has, it is only reasonable that we would honor our friends and relatives by giving them more “stuff.” In Luke 12:15 Jesus said, “A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” This is a hard fact to get into our heads in a culture where the opposite seems to be the conventional wisdom.

Remember that Jesus Christ is Lord on this special day when we celebrate His birth.