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By George, it’s Lent!
I don’t know about you, but I have a number of Georges in my life. There’s George Toles, George Munzing, George Warren, George Harper, George Duff, George Haas, George Castle, George Storto and George Chambers. I actually have three who are members of my church on the Island. Not bad for a name that isn’t all that popular anymore. When’s the last time you heard of a baby being named George?
This month one of our country’s most famous Georges celebrated a memorable birthday. No, I’m not referring to either George Herbert Walker Bush or George Walker Bush. And while the father of our country qualifies (we just marked the 277th anniversary of his life), I’m not referring to George Washington either.
On Feb. 1 of this year, George Shea turned 100 years old. “Who is he, for Heaven’s sake?” you might ask. Well, that’s a most appropriate question. If you were to ask this George what his purpose in life has been, he’d likely respond, “Helping people I’ve never met prepare for Heaven when they reach the end of their life.” Actually, even though he has lived in the United States all but a few of his century of years, this George was born in Winchester, Ontario.
Still aren’t sure who this famous George is? Perhaps it would help if I mentioned his middle name. BEVERLY. That’s right. George Beverly Shea, the resonate baritone soloist of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reached that historic milestone this month. He is 10 years older than his more well-known colleague.
I’ve never met George Beverly Shea, although I did work at the same Chicago radio station where he got his start in broadcasting. I have heard him sing in person on more than one occasion, however. Believe it or not, this remarkable man can still belt out a gospel song when most people his age can’t blow out half the candles on their birthday cake.
Now, I’d be the first to admit that George Beverly Shea’s style is not my favorite. I prefer something a bit more upbeat. But I am attracted to something about him I don’t see much of anymore. Even though he doesn’t own a violin, George’s amazingly long career has found him content to play second fiddle.
For over 60 years, George has stood up in sports arenas and stadiums around the world to sing a song or two just before Billy Graham speaks. Although he has been very good at what he does, the purpose of his “doings” has never been to achieve a name for himself. This rather shy and introverted vocalist found fulfillment being a forerunner for a more famous communicator.
As with John the Baptist, who retreated into the shadows when Jesus came onto the scene, George’s life has been similarly defined. He found fulfillment setting the stage for the one on whom the spotlight would be aimed to get the credit.
For Christians on Mercer Island and around the world, today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of a 40-day journey to Easter Sunday commonly called Lent. The Lenten adventure is an invitation to self-denial. Some give up meat. Some deny themselves caffeine or alcohol. Others go without television or sweets.
As I contemplate the life and legacy of George Beverly Shea, I’d throw out another way to embrace the concept of self-sacrifice. What about focusing on others and allowing them to get the credit instead of grabbing for the glory yourself?
I really like the way St. Paul put it in his letter to the Christians in first-century Philippi. He wrote, “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand…” (Philippians 2:3-4, The Message).
Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos is the head of the Mercer Island Covenant Church and a regular contributor to the Reporter.