Ideas That Stick

In 1892, William Wrigley began placing two pieces of chewing gum in every order of baking powder purchased from his fledgling company. He hoped this “premium” would increase sales. To his surprise (and profit), the gum became more popular than the baking powder. His new brands Juicy Fruit and Spearmint became household names, and the Wrigley Co. grew into a multi-billion dollar business. (It sold to Mars, Inc. in 2008 for $23 billion.)

Thanks in large measure to William Wrigley, chewing gum developed a life of its own.

Even though it had existed in some form for centuries, chewing gum became a part of Americana. Do you remember baseball cards with chewing gum enclosed? Today, kids still practice blowing bubble gum to see how large a bubble they can make without it getting stuck on their face and hair.

Gum chewing is touted as a remedy for refreshing your breath, cleaning your teeth, calming your nerves, and performing emergency repairs when a more ordinary adhesive is unavailable. Millions of people of all ages like to chew gum. One reporter said of Wrigley, “He taught the world the gum chewing habit.”

Of course, gum chewing has its detractors. Since the product is virtually indestructible, how do you dispose of it? Thousands of users simply stick it to the underside of whatever piece of furniture is handy. When I was a teen, my job as a busboy included removing gum from the table-bottoms with a putty knife. Disposing of used gum on furniture was so widely practiced, some wag composed this obituary at Mr. Wrigley’s death: “In keeping with his family’s wishes, his remains will be wadded up and stuck to the underside of the lunch counter at Woolworth’s.”

It is this “mess” gum can make on furniture and sidewalks and bottoms of shoes that has led most schools (and the nation of Singapore) to ban gum chewing. In fourth grade, it was a daily drama to see if Mrs. Whitlow could catch Roger Dale before he swallowed his gum. She never did but that boy had lower GI tract problems we do not want to discuss here. I checked with my grandkids. The cat-and-mouse struggle over chewing gum continues apace at their schools.

Yes, gum chewing has its problems. (Did I mention tooth decay?) But still we chew! Did Mr. Wrigley think his gum would make this much impact? Oh, of course, it has not changed the world. And, it is not nearly so important as discovering cures for diseases or advances in agricultural production. But it is visible everywhere, and it has stuck around a long time. What an idea!

I want to celebrate ideas that stick in our work for God.

I’m thinking of those inventions, creations, dreams, programs – large and small – that find their way into our lives and make a difference for Christ. I have a friend in Texas whose mother, sometime around World War II, invented “Bible Drill”. How many generations of Baptist kids (and others) have benefitted from this idea? Twenty years ago, Richard Ross and Jimmy Hester sketched out an idea on a napkin in a coffee shop. That idea, called True Love Waits, has helped millions of students live victoriously through moral and spiritual challenges. In 1894, an Illinois public school teacher Ms. D.T. Miles invented Vacation Bible School. Now, there’s an idea that has stuck. How about Evangelism Explosion?

God has used ordinary Christians to think of, invent, and implement an amazing array of small and large initiatives that have advanced the kingdom of God.

We’re looking for ideas that stick. Our LBC 2020 Commission findings present us with a wonderful “opportunity” to think and act in new, impactful ways that will be remembered and imitated for decades to come. (I will be addressing those findings in coming days.) Will you come up with the new idea? Will your passion and energy take it from the drawing board to the streets? I am excited to see what explosions of Christian ministry erupt from your ideas. Get your spiritual eyes and ears attuned. Put on your thinking caps. Put on your work gloves. Let’s see what God does with your idea.

Noah’s New Year

Now that it is over, how do you rate 2013? Are you singing with Sinatra, “It was a very good year”? We like good years where there is bountiful harvest, good health, memorable experiences with family and friends, and a general sense of peace and satisfaction. Those are the years we remember with fondness. We get out the photos or pop in the DVD and enjoy once again the pleasant times.

Then… there are those “other” years- the ones marked by loss and hardship and conflict. We pack the artifacts of bad years in a box tied with strong twine, and shove it in a corner of life’s attic, hoping to never look at it again.

The biblical man Noah lived a long time and a long time ago. Across his lengthy lifespan, he probably had a wide admixture of annual experiences. There were years that were good, bad, mediocre, exhilarating, frightening, happy, sad, mundane, forgettable- -the whole gamut.

But his 600th year was catastrophic— a life-changing, earth-shattering, epoch-making, never-to-be-repeated calamity. It was the year of the deluge- the great flood. He had been warned it would come and told how to prepare. But it was still catastrophic. The Bible’s description: “He (God) blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things to the birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those who were with him in the ark. And the water prevailed upon the earth 150 days.” (Gen. 7:23-24).

Now that’s a bad year! Everything and everyone Noah and his family knew, save their special menagerie, was gone. They rafted for just over a year. How long could they survive in this floating warehouse?

What was next? Would there be a “next”? “But God remembered Noah and all… that were with him in the ark.” (Gen. 8:1). It was New Year’s Day. “Now it came about in the 601st year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth.” (Gen. 8:13).

The old year was gone. The new year had come. The old year was the flood. The new year was dry ground. The old year was the deluge. The new year was the rainbow. The old year was filled with violence, and wickedness, and evil. The new year was filled with promise: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1). The promise would bring, not just a new year, but a new world!

Have you ever had a year that was marked by a “flood of mortal ills”? I have. Maybe 2013 was that kind of year for you. The Christian community in America seems to be going through a rough patch, too. Recent declines in areas of belief, morality, integrity, and godliness represent a flood of mortal ills. And the waters are rising rapidly. What will 2014 bring? Will we lose everything we’ve known? Can the church survive? Can we overcome what we have experienced in the past? How can we possibly prevail?

God will remember us. As Martin Luther wrote:

“And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.”

The Psalmist said it this way: “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God. Thou hast smitten all my enemies on the cheek; Thou hast shattered the teeth of the wicked.” (Ps. 3:6-7).

It’s a new year. Be fruitful and multiply.