James Cash Penney went into the retail business as a young man and eventually established a chain of stores bearing his name. He built 1,400 JCPenney stores before the stock market crash of 1929 left him in financial ruin. Penney checked himself into a hospital, where he heard the hymn "God Will Take Care of You" being sung in the hospital's chapel and became a born-again Christian. For the rest of his life, he used his influence to serve Christ by serving others.
Fast forward to November 2011, when JCPenney replaced longtime CEO Mike Ullman with Apple executive Ron Johnson. Johnson immediately fired many of the company's leaders and tried to promote sweeping culture change for the organization, including a series of ads endorsing homosexuality. Company stock nosedived. Johnson was fired after less than two years, and Ullman was asked to step back in.
It was my privilege to meet and share a platform with Mike earlier this year. I found him to be one of the most brilliant, engaging, humble leaders I've ever met. His Christian commitment is clear and bold. He has already improved the culture of JCPenney in remarkable ways. Now his company has done something especially unusual, a promotion called "the gift of giving."
The now-viral video tells the remarkable story. JCPenney wanted to buy gifts for customers, but in an unusual way. Store employees asked shoppers to find someone in the store they didn't know and offer to "buy" them a gift. One gave a woman a sofa. Another gave a couple their engagement ring. A delighted girl was given a pair of slippers. One tearful woman told her benefactors that it was her birthday. People were clearly blessed to receive, and even more blessed to give.
We need such joy today. TIME magazine reported four traits which lead to hypertension: (1) a tendency to get upset when having to wait, (2) a tendency to eat too quickly, (3) a feeling of pressure as the end of the regular workday approaches, and (4) a feeling of time pressure in general. Do you have all four? Then you are twice as likely as others to develop moderate to severe hypertension.
The Christmas season contributes to our stress. The American Psychological Association says 69 percent of us are anxious about lack of time or money during the holidays. Forty-two percent say they are so stressed by the holidays, they wish they could skip Christmas altogether.
Here's a solution: find someone to serve today. The One whose birth we are celebrating promised, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). As one of the JCPenney benefactors noted, "When you give, you grow."
How will you grow today?
Publication date: December 18, 2014
For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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