Monday, December 1, 2014

Merry Christmas and the Failure of New Coke

     April 23, 1985 was the date of what has been called by many, “the greatest marketing blunder of all time.” It was on this date that Cola-Cola announced a change in the formula of their flagship brand. The new formula was advertised as being “smoother” than the original formula and was preferred by consumers in blind taste tests. The public response was overwhelming, immediate and hostile. Consumers formed groups to protest the change, bombarded the Atlanta headquarters with complaints and even filed lawsuits to force Coca-Cola to bring back the original formula. It is safe to say that no one expected such visceral public response. By July of that same year the company announced that the original formula would be returning as Coca-Cola Classic.

    So, what went wrong? If the new formula was preferred in taste tests, why was it rejected in the marketplace? Corporate executives learned a valuable lesson through this marketing failure. What they learned was, for millions of Americans, Coca-Cola was more than just a soft drink. It was inseparably woven into their memories, traditions and culture. The unique bottle and familiar script had become icons of the American way of life. For many, to change the century old soft drink was to change America – and that’s just un-American.

     Christmas in America has become a lot like Coca-Cola. It is woven into our collective consciousness. The sights, sounds and tradition of Christmas are a part of our heritage. There is a certain comfort in seeing the Christmas lights go up around town, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the 30th time, putting up the Christmas tree and hearing the clerk at grocery store tell us “Merry Christmas.” All of these things bring back wonderful memories and even give us a little hope for tomorrow.

     Over the last decade or so there has been a definite push to change many of these traditions. Local municipalities have forbidden nativity scenes on publicly owned property and many retailers have instructed their employees to stop saying “Merry Christmas,” opting instead for the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” These changes have understandably caused great concern among devout Christians, but what is surprising is the vocal outrage expressed by many who would be never identified as Christian. Countless Americans who rarely (if ever) attend church and whose very lives deny the deity Christ are nonetheless upset that “Merry Christmas” is being replaced. 

     Why would they care? Why would people who don’t seem to acknowledge Christ the other eleven months of the year care if He is not recognized in the twelfth month? The same reason they didn’t want Coca-Cola to change the original formula – tradition. It’s the same reason that so many young girls envision a grand wedding in a beautiful column fronted church. It’s part of the American dream; it’s a part of our ethos. The unfortunate truth is that for many, the words “Merry Christmas” have lost any significant meaning. They really are no different than “Happy Holidays.” 

     In the end, the Coca-Cola Company really doesn’t care why people buy their soft drink as long as they are buying it. Tradition or taste, it’s all the same. Christmas is different. The motivation behind the celebration is of utmost importance. Christmas can only rightly be observed as a remembrance of the earthly birth of our Savior. Anything else is pointless. Sadly, this fact often gets lost in the noise of the season. The Savior’s birth often is relegated to lapel pins and yard signs.

     While there is nothing wrong with “Jesus is the reason for the Season” pins, we must keep in mind that He is not just the reason for this season. He is the reason for every season. Colossians 1:16-17 states that …all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. If we will remember this January through November then it will be apparent in December. As Christians we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by Santa Clause, elves, Christmas pageants and parades or Black Friday Sales. We cannot allow this celebration to be reduced to nothing more than another cultural tradition. 

     Until next year, “Happy Holli…,” no wait “Merry Christ…” how about, “Have a joyous celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

In His Service,

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Early Morning in the French Quarter

     One of the unappreciated consequences of growing older is that I find it increasingly difficult to sleep away from my own bed. When I was younger I could sleep anywhere, anytime (and often did). As a result, when we travel I often find myself waking up early – whether I want to or not. Such was the case on our family’s trip to New Orleans this summer. Much to my displeasure, I was awake at 6:00 in the morning. Since I couldn’t go back to sleep and I didn’t want to wake the boys (they can still sleep anywhere) I decided to wander around the French Quarter as the city was beginning to come to life.

     While I have always appreciated the architecture of the Quarter, it was the people of the early morning that captured my attention. Rarely have I had the opportunity to mingle with a more diverse cross section of society. As one who has never been particularly fond of exercising in the morning, I was amazed at the number of joggers who were scurrying through the Quarter at the break of dawn. They moved in sharp contrast to the homeless who lay motionless, clinging to whatever uncomfortable sleep they were able to achieve on their cardboard beds and concrete pillows.

     Added to the mix was the multitude of workers who sustain the service industry that is the lifeblood of New Orleans. These anonymous hotel and restaurant employees were hard at work cleaning up from the night before and making preparations for the day ahead. Standing at a corner, I watched an aproned man hosing down the sidewalk in front the cafĂ© where he worked. Another man, in a white shirt and tie, drove by in his Mercedes; heading towards the Central Business District. A few blocks away was a team of sanitation workers armed with pressure sprayers and disinfectant methodically moved down the street erasing the last remnants of the weekend’s festivities.

     While contemplating the socio-economic diversity revealed in the early morning Quarter, I was struck by the reality that the man in the Mercedes was really no different than the one sleeping in the doorway. While divided by what they possessed, they were united in what they needed. It was need that made everyone equal – the homeless, the executive, the jogger, the service worker and yes, even the visiting pastor who could not sleep.

     No matter how rich or poor, Scripture reminds us that we have all sinned against a holy God. That sin has created an unbridgeable chasm between us and our Creator. We can’t earn enough money, impress enough people or do enough good deeds to ever span this gap to God. Whether we drive a luxury car to our executive level job or spend our morning sleeping in doorways, we are all hopelessly lost.

     It is for that reason that Christ came to us. Through His substitutionary death He paid the debt for our sin and bridged the gap between us and God. In doing so He proved God’s love for us. He didn’t do it because we earned it, but because we needed it – we all needed it.

     Standing there on Bienville Street, surrounded by this diverse cross section of society that I was reminded that no matter who we are, or even who we think we are, we all share the same need. It was because of that need God gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Amen.

In His Service,

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Painted Bricks

     Several years ago, while driving to work, I stopped at a red light by the seminary in Wake Forest. While waiting for the light to change I noticed a man on his hands and knees, with a three foot foam rubber template, painting the sidewalks. It took me a few seconds to figure out what he was doing. Wake Forest is like a lot of small southern towns. It has a unique and interesting historical district full of quaint shops and restaurants. Part of its charm is that the town has made it a point to keep the historic feel. To that end, the “powers that be” decided that gray concrete sidewalks did not look very historic and that brick sidewalks were more appropriate to the era. A few of the older brick sidewalks had survived, but most of the town’s sidewalks were concrete. The solution – paint the concrete sidewalks to look like brick. It cost much less than tearing up all of the concrete sidewalks and it
would create the “feel” they were after.

     From the window of a passing car, these painted brick sidewalks did look like the real thing. They did add to the historic feel of the town and they certainly cost much less than real brick. The problem was when you parked your car and actually walked on them. No one would be fooled into thinking that these were genuine brick sidewalks. They were not the real thing. These painted sidewalks lacked depth. Because the paint could only cover the surface it was thin and didn’t hold up well to wear. The difference was really noticeable in those areas where the painted brick sidewalks connected to a genuine brick one. While the real bricks showed their age and were not as uniform as the faux bricks, they had character, they had depth. They had the type of wear that comes from decades of use. Even in those areas where the bricks had been worn down, what was underneath was still brick.

     As I considered these sidewalks, I could not help but think, this is a picture of the church. Jesus charged us with the responsibility of making disciples, but somewhere along the way we realized that it was much easier and less costly to just “paint bricks.” We have created a generation whose faith is nothing more than a thin coat of paint. When passing by or with just a quick glance they look like the real thing, but when you really stop to look at them the difference is clear. With a little wear the paint comes right off and they go back to being just concrete. When positioned along side other sections of painted brick they seem normal, but when they come in contact with genuine bricks the difference is clear.

     Making disciples, like laying a genuine brick sidewalk takes time, commitment and investment. It requires that the old sidewalk be torn out and new material be laid down. Making disciples means a fundamental change in the material being used. It means a change at the very core of the person, in their heart. It is however, an endeavor that is worth the effort. It’s what Christ commanded us to do. We must remember, the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. He’s not looking for imitation disciples, He desires the real thing. We must also remember that faux faith is not genuine faith; it’s not saving faith. This world will never be changed by imitation Christianity, it will never be transformed by a faith that is only skin deep. It will be changed as people are changed – one brick at a time.

In His Service,