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Christmas Presents

December 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I heard a man say “Merry Christmas” and then apologize switching to “Happy New Year” instead. But he was really right the first time. We’ve entered Christmas “time,” and today is only the sixth day of a 12-day feast. During some seasons, Kelly and I have chosen to exchange a gift for each of the 12 days, helping remind us of the extended season of feasting.

Since I love getting presents this makes for a good tradition. While I realize that it is better to give than receive, I find it delightful to get…lots of presents. Presents and Christmas just go together. Some of my fondest memories from childhood include sitting under the Christmas tree and stacking up all the gifts that were labeled, “To Doug.”

During my early childhood, we’ve lived up in New Jersey. Every year we’d receive several large boxes from Tennessee, and each box was filled with presents from all our relatives.

What a delight I had to tear into the boxes, unpack the gifts and stack them under the tree. During the days leading up to Christmas, I’d sit by the tree and gather the “Doug” gifts, shaking, weighing and wondering upon the contents of each pretty package.

Sometimes I think I enjoyed the presents more before I opened them. The fancy papers, the colored bows, the odd shapes, and the varying weights all were a feast for my young imagination. Augustine’s idea that true happiness is found in anticipation of the good was being proved even in my childlike world of wonder.

In a way, this may be why Christmas sometimes seems like a letdown for some children and adults. The anticipation of the event is far more delightful than the actual experience. We discover like Augustine that the good we longed for is still ahead of us and not found in the mere gifts we exchanged.

As he reflected upon our longing for the “good,” Augustine came to believe that this good must be outside of us or we wouldn’t long for it. Then he assumed it must be something greater than what our outer world could supply. Because all our earthly goods never live up to the longing we have.

As he wrestled with this unfulfilled longing, Augustine came to see this greater good as something or someone that would fulfill the “desire” within us that drives us to long. And eventually Augustine came to realize that this “good” must be God, and that true happiness was found on earth in the anticipation of God who is beyond us.

For him, true earthly happiness was found in the longing for the “beautiful vision” of God. We merely touch hints of this vision in present life and will only enjoy the complete vision in the life to come. So even in the delight of a Christmas present, Augustine might see hints of God’s wondrous love.

I like that because my delight with Christmas presents might be seen as an act of spiritual devotion. Then again, it might be my unbridled selfish desires. And oddly enough, I suppose it is really a mixture of both. And God in his grace is working and transforming me in spite of my selfish motives.

But for now, let me go back to the presents! I have a question for you. What is the most memorable present you have ever received? I asked myself this several days ago, and oddly enough, it’s not an easy question to answer. All the presents blur together in my mind. Sweaters and pants and shirts and toys and boxes and bows all jumble together in one confusing mix.

So I’m not sure I can answer the question. After a few days of consideration, I have begun to remember the Bozo riding in the Bozo car that still sits in my house to this day. Then I remembered a Fisher Price circus set and a golf ball yo-yo and a train. Oops now the memories are flooding my mind: multiple race tracks, G.I. Joe dolls, magic tricks, a chemistry set, and a Tootsie Roll machine. Now I can’t stop. On and on I could go for pages listing trinkets and toys that delighted me for seasons of my childhood.

I failed to mention that the first gift which came to mind was a broken toy: a little car with broken wheels. I hated this gift but remember it more than any other gift. My sister and I were attending a youth choir Christmas party. We exchanged gifts using numbers we drew from a hat.

When I opened my little package, I was shocked to find a used and broken toy. Sad to say, I burst into tears. “Why me Lord?” “Why in heaven would someone have given me a broken toy?” As usual, my sister came to the rescue. She quickly pooled some money with another girl, and they ran down to the bookstore to buy me a puzzle.

I appreciated her kindness but somehow always felt a tinge of guilt playing with that puzzle. Why was I so sensitive and selfish over such a small thing? The memory stills haunts me on occasion.

I still wonder, “What is the story on that broken car?” Who thought bringing a broken car as a gift was a good idea? Were they too poor to buy something? If so, maybe this little broken car was actually a treasured gift, and they were giving me something of great value.” I’ll never know the story before it came to me, but I can tell you the story after I received it. Discarded. Trashed. But not forgotten.

Every gift is not simply a gift. It is actually a story in motion. It had a story before I got it and in one way or another it becomes part of my story once I receive it. For every gift that someone bought for me over the years, there was a moment or many moments of wondering, “What would Doug want?” Or possibly, “What can I get the best deal on?”

A whole series of thoughts might have occupied someone’s mind: “What size does he wear?” “What color does he like?” “Maybe I’ll just get him a goofy toy and call it a day.” For every gift someone bought for me, a thought or series of thoughts passed through their mind about me.

Now I realize something rather odd about the gift. It is actually an extension or symbol of the relationship I enjoy with that person. They took a few minutes to think about me and to find a gift for me because I am in relationship with them (even if that relationship consists in simply feeling some obligation to buy something).

Now this might seem odd, but I come to realize that gifts are but symbols for persons in my life. The wonder of gifts might not only point to some deep longing for the God, they might also point to the wonder of human relationships.

Looking around me at all the people in my life, I realize that I am surrounded by all shapes and sizes of gifts. Some talkative. Some quiet. Some big. Some tiny. Some friendly. Some a bit grumpy. And yet, in the mystery of God’s grace all these people are gifts of love and relationship God has granted me in this life: hints of His divine and all-surpassing love.

I can admire the packages. Or I can open up the gifts. How? I listen, enjoy, appreciate the wonder of the people around me. I can realize that each of these people have a story that extends far beyond me. But in some mysterious way I am part of their story and they are part of my story.

Every person in my life will change me and I will change them. I can celebrate them and thank God for them, or I can act like I got a bunch of broken toys. And ask, “Why me?”

I hope I’ve learned that even broken toys have mystery and wonder and stories that may unfold surprising hints of God’s goodness and grace.

As I celebrate the 12 days of Christmas this year, I am opening up gifts. Not physical boxes, but the amazing wonder of people in my life. From family and friends to the mystery of the stranger in the story, I am surrounded by gifts of wonder and glory. May I have eyes to see this wonder and sense the stirrings of a love from deep heaven that binds us together in grace.

Doug Floyd

“From a human perspective, when you compare [God] to the other gods of the other religions in the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; he comes in the most common of ways, when by his Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that he comes at all—he’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that he wants to come down. And he has proven his love by the fact that he did come down and touch our ground.”
James R. Van Tholen, Where All Hope Lies (cited from ChristianityToday.com)

Holiday or Hollow Day?

December 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Check out Jeremy’s thoughtful perspective on the celebrating stories that are not anchored in “deep myth.”

Categories: Christmas Tags: , ,

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Winter.
Beautiful destruction blankets the old world
in white death.
Baptism.
All the world is buried beneath
the terrible whiteness of God’s love.
Silence.
Laughter, tears and non-stop chatter cease
in the bleak mid-winter night.
Stillness.
One cry breaks the chilling
night of bone cold death.
Baby.
Jesus tumbles down in dead of winter,
coloring this white world with heaven’s light.
Spring.
Love’s fire melts sin’s icy sting,
Raising a new world into vibrant life.

A Christmas Carol

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

I still remember the shock I first experienced when Ebenezer Scrooge (in the guise of Mr. Magoo) saw his name on the tombstone. In some strange way, this odd slightly scary image is one of my earliest impressions of Christmas. And I think of it fondly.

Mr. Magoo introduced me to the wonder of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and for that I was always be grateful. I can barely imagine Christmas without the wonder of this marvelous story.

Over the years, I’ve watched almost every version of “A Christmas Carol.” And yet, every year I find another one I haven’t seen. This year I had the pleasure of discovering a haunting 1935 version with Seymour Hicks. Drawing elements from German expressionism, this version captures the terrible wonder of this story.

I believe the master storyteller Charles Dickens in all his flaws was graced by God to bless the world with his rich legacy of penetrating stories. (Here is a little essay I wrote on Charles Dickens in the early 90s.)

Dickens saw the suffering of the world first-hand. As a child, his family went to the poor, but Dickens was left behind to fend for himself. For several months, he drifted through a nightmare of existence.

His nightmares became the stories I’ve loved so deeply. Dickens doesn’t hesitate to portray the gritty ugliness of our world and the people in our world. And yet, his loves those people. He loves Scrooge. So he can’t leave him in his dis-grace.

A few friendly ghosts will rescue the old man in his misery. During of night of visions, Scrooge encounters the ugliness of his soul, his need for redemption, and the heart of Christmas joy. While “A Christmas Carol” does not explicitly detail the story of Christ, the image is never far from the surface. Listen to Dickens own words as he talks about his image of Christmas:

What images do I associate with the Christmas music as I see them set forth on the Christmas tree? Known before all others, keeping far apart from all other, they gather round my bed. An angel, speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travelers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in a spacious temple, talking with grave men; a solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof of a chamber where he sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed, with ropes; the same, in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship again; again, on a sea-shore, teaching a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee, and other children round; again, restoring sight to the sick, strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again, dying upon a Cross, watched by armed soldiers, a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake, and only one voice hear, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Dickens saw the “writing on the tree” so to speak. He saw what Christmas envisioned. The birth, life and death of the Savior for all humanity. The only hope in a world darkened by human violence and human oppression.

Alongside Dickens, we learn to love Scrooge as we witness a man wounded and damaged in this world of sin. Scrooge, the grumpy bah-humbug truly becomes the “founder of the feast” that Bob Cratchitt has called him. In his redemption, Scrooge comes to exemplify the very spirit of Christmas present. Joy and generosity overflow from the man who once was a pit of stinginess.

In the 1970 musical version starring Albert Finney, Scrooge is so deeply transformed that he tears up his debt book (bringing up images of Zacchaeus after he encounters Jesus). Then Scrooge dons a Santa outfit and proceeds to pour out gifts and laughter and joy upon everyone in his presence. Wherever Scrooge goes, he brings the celebration with him.

That spirit of abundance, of generosity, of overwhelming joy inspires me to bring the joy, and not to wait for someone or something else to make me happy. I’ve tasted the secret of joy in the goodness of God’s grace, and I want to spread it to all people I meet. Just as Cratchitt loved the unlovable Scrooge, I want to love and call for the best from the people around me.

When Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol,” the London Times hadn’t mentioned Christmas for over 30 years. But Dickens saw the possibility of what could be, and he wrote about it. Chesterton rightly calls Dickens the “founder of the feast” because he fell in love with the despairing people around him and wrote a vision of their transformation.

Sounds a bit like the wonder of a God who loved and loves his enemies. And his relentless love transforms our dark and hateful souls into something wondrous. Oh Lord, grant me eyes to see your love for the people around me. Just as my haunting memory of the Mr. Magoo Scrooge facing a tombstone, I know we all face a tombstone.

We have a brief sojourn before ascending. Let us love deeply and widely and unreservedly. Let us pray and hope and expect the grace of God to penetrate all the Scrooges in our world.

Advent – Rejoice!

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

The feast is upon us. For those who’ve kept the advent fast and for those who forgot. For those who’ve been watching and for those who fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel appears announcing, “Good news!” And the dark night becomes a festival of light. Thousand and thousands of voices join in the song,
“Glory to God in the highest,
Peace on earth
Goodwill to man!”

What? You don’t feel like singing? You don’t have the Christmas spirit. Your back hurts. You’re in a bad mood.

I would suggest that for all these reasons, you must sing. Sing out! Pierce the darkness of dis-courage-ment with the light of courage to praise. Even now God’s redemption draws near to you. Today is the day of salvation.

It’s a day of good news, great tidings, delicious, delightful, happily-ever-after news. God has declared “Peace!”

In spite of our warring hearts, in spite of our false loves, in spite of our constant failings, He declares, “Peace and Joy!” In the miracle birth of baby Jesus, we behold the Heavenly King who comes to make all things new—even your sad story.

The story that you thought was a story of failure has become a grand adventure. A love story. A song and dance. A fairy tale that out fairy tales even Snow White and Cinderella combined. For the Prince of Peace wakes your dead soul with a holy kiss and invites you to the Wedding Feast.

Even now He is present and the angels are singing all around you. In fact, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of voices have joined in the song. The saints of the ages have joined in the glorious refrain,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.”

He has not forgotten you. He did not abandon you. Even now He calls you by name. Even now He looks upon you as His beloved.

For the babe Jesus came as King, as Lover, as Healer, and Lord and Redeemer. He did not simply come to restore the people of Israel, He came to restore all of us into His life of love.

Let us join the angel song.

This rejoicing. This singing. This praising. This is why we have our tongues. For once let us use them for their real purpose, to sing hilariously to the good God of Heaven who enters our world of sin and death and pain and suffering, so that we might enter into His world of love and life and joy and peace.

So get up and let us all light up the darkness with the joy of singing, dancing, laughter and love.

Life’s Journey in Psalm 23

December 17, 2008 2 comments

Living our lives involves peace, nourishment, growth, struggle, suffering, surprise, joy and love. In the midst of this shifting world, we must learn to rest confidently in the absolute faithfulness of God…to the very end.

Born into a family we grow and learn and change over time and in space. We move from infant to child to youth to teen to adult. Then our adult life is a separate journey that may repeat aspects of our childhood in differing order. Recently, I was thinking about this passage through time in light of Psalm 23.

I think this Psalm might provide a helpful lens to consider the path upon which we walk and the places we pass through along the way. At the same time, the Psalm may reveal some sense of the journey of Israel, God’s people chosen to bless the world. These thoughts are still forming, but I thought I’d jot them down.

Psalm 23 begins in the place of infancy:

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

The baby is completely dependent upon the gentle care of the parent. The babe has no wants and trust the parent to provide food, comfort, shelter and care. In the story of Ancient Israel, we see God rescuing the people from Egypt. They are completely helpless and can only survive by trusting in His complete provision. From crossing the Red Sea to drinking water from the rock, Israel must rest in God’s direct provision for their sustenance.

Like Israel, we begin in a place of complete dependence. We cannot safe ourselves. We are helpless, sinful, blind, and enslaved. In His grace, He draws us to Himself and feeds our soul. His love covers a multitude of sins. He showers us with grace. He heals us. Feeds us. And guides us.

But then the babe must begin to grow. They learn obedience, they learn discipline, they prepare to become adults who will carry on the name of their family. The giving of the Law at Mt Sinai is the gift of God to transform the children of Israel into a kingdom of priests who will bring blessing to the world. The parent trains their child in righteousness, and in the same way, the Father prepares us to bear His name. We must grow up into Him, into the life He has called us.

3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

There are seasons when He brings us back to the lessons of childhood. For the Father disciplines His true children. If we are to bear His name, if we are to reveal His blessing and glory, we must be trained in His righteousness by His Holy Spirit.

Adolescence can be painful. The shifting from child to man is wrought with emotional and physical development that turns the youth’s world upside down. For some this season may shift from extreme joy to extreme anger to extreme sadness. I would suggest it might be like passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

As the Father calls us to grow up into love, we also must pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In this place, we face our own desperate need for God’s grace. It is here that we will learn the love of Christ. It is here that we will discover the great depth of God’s grace.

And it is here that we will face our greatest trials. For in the “valley of the shadow of death,” we face the wounds that sin has inflicted on our lives and through our lives. There are caves of bitterness and rejection and loneliness and anger. It is here that the seducer of our souls calls out to us. He seeks to lead into the tailspin of self-reliance, into the path of the dead.

In the “valley of the shadow of death” many people forget the green pastures they once knew. In fact, they begin doubt there ever was a shepherd caring for their souls. If you live in a cave too longer, you may quit believing in the sun. And eventually, you’ll become blind in the darkness. The valley of the shadow of death is dangerous and may cost us our life.

This is where advent begins. We join Israel in the valley of the shadow of death. We discover that their exile, their story of being cast into outer darkness is actually our story. For in this dark valley, we realize that we were not as shiny and pretty and wonderful as we had imagined. The wounds of sin have penetrated our memories, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

Why would the Father so cruelly lead us into to such a place of death? It is here that we realize our deep need for healing and grace. It is hear that we discover a love that touches our deepest pains. Without passing through this valley, we will never know the depths of love, we will never be healed by the depths of love. In the place of death, of darkness, of exile, we must learn to cry out, “Lord have mercy!”

There’s only one way out of this valley of the shadow of death. It is by entering into the shadow. Death is the only way out. So we must enter the one who consumed and the grave. In the cross of Christ, we discover life.

Here we discover Jesus has already gone on ahead of us. He’s passed through this valley and His cross has made a way to another land. There is a feast awaiting us.

Psalm 23:5-6
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning. The night of sin and death may seem to last and last and last. But it is but a blink of the eye compared to the joy that is to come in the full light of day. By His grace, we awake in the morning of His love (with the promise of day to come).

We return to the place of rest and trust in the Shepherd of our souls. But now we are adults. Jesus offers His body and blood as a feast of life in the midst of our enemies. The battles are not over. In fact, we may still face great suffering and struggle. But His Spirit has taught and is teaching of the wonder and secret of deep joy.

The joy of children is the joy of innocence. It is beautiful. Playful. Lyrical. The joy of adulthood is the joy that has the power to face the darkness, to drink the cup of suffering, and to continue singing and rejoicing. This is the joy of Paul and Silas imprisoned and beaten unjustly.

No they are not treated fair or right, but they can still rejoice in the Good King, the Savior of the World. In the midst of their enemies, they feast. They eat at the table of the Lord. They enjoy the anointing of God’s Spirit and are filling to overflowing with life that pours out upon the wicked prisoners and jailer around them.

By the great grace of God, we are called to grow up into priests, kings and prophets in the midst of world scarred by sin and corruption and death. We don’t escape this world of pain but we bring goodness and mercy into the midst of it.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.

As we grow, we learn to draw from the hope that is held securely for us behind the veil. This hope of complete redemption, of eternal glory, of faithful love sustains us. This hope is not in the shaking sand of emotional or mental assurance but in the absolute fidelity of Jesus Christ who cannot be moved but has already been faithful to the end of all things. His complete faithfulness to the Father in and through death continues shining as He raises from the dead, a light of hope bursting back from the end of all things to this moment in time.

So I rest in His faithfulness and know that the Shepherd of my soul will bring me to dwell in His house forevermore.

Categories: Advent, meditation Tags: , , ,

Political Science instead of MBA

December 17, 2008 1 comment

I wonder if a “political science” degree might be more helpful than some of the MBAs I’ve encountered. I know some MBA programs connect and support Drucker’s original vision of how business play an integrating role of social stability. But many MBAs seem to be nothing more than glorified Excel degrees.

Political science is the study of the art and science of the body politic. I think many businesses function much like a body politic. They deal with issues of governance, war (internal and external), human relations, social stability, and so on. Plus, their decisions often have ramifications that reach far beyond the business.

If you think about businesses, you might also see that some are run more like a democracy (some like a rambunctious Athenian democracy), some are totalitarian tyrannies, some some are republics and so on.

I wonder if have some sernior executive with a political science background might helpful bring a helpful accentuation into the managing and visioning process.

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