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Zombies for Thanksgiving

November 20, 2012 1 comment

I have a somewhat macabre picture in my mind of zombies stumbling to Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a table full of zombies feasting on turkey, dressing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. Once they finish the appetizers, they start looking to the host for the next course.

Somehow a little bit Halloween has gotten into Thanksgiving and these “walking dead” keep showing up unannounced with a ravenous hunger.

Zombies do seem to keep showing up everywhere nowadays. They’ve broken free from George Romero’s films and are now showing up in Jane Austen novels like the awfully popular “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” They’re ambling through video games, comic books, social protests and even academic research.

In 2009, Carlton University and the University of Ottowa conducted a mathematical modeling analysis to determine the best plan of action in case of a zombie outbreak. The Center for Disease Control recently utilized zombies for an emergency preparedness campaign. So why not have zombies over for Thanksgiving?

In the modern reinterpretation of the “zombie myth,” these staggering sleepwalkers were once normal humans. Some cataclysmic event or pandemic turned them into human flesh eaters. They cannot stop consuming.

I think the zombies are already here. The walking dead dwell among us.

The Victorian author George MacDonald might say that the “walking undead” dwell among us. In his novel Lillith, he suggests that those who selfishly cling to life are undead. The undead do not yet to know how to live. Only when they die, will they live.

With a deep dose of German Romanticism, the novel follows the dark adventures of the undead Mr. Vane as he wanders across the far side of the grave. At one point, he encounters two skeletons crumbling apart as they argue. His guide, the raven explains that the skeletons are husband and wife. They’re damned to keep grumbling and crumbling until they can fully love and finally dance.

Like those skeletons, we stumble and grumble through the world, dull to wonder and glory and the utter joy of existence. We’ve been lulled into the sin of apetheia (sloth) by busyness, by disappointment, by confusion, by suffering and oddly enough by prosperity.

We can only handle so many blessings before we become bored. The monotony of daily blessings numbs us to the privilege of every breath. So we focus on our discontent while longing for more of the same. Many of us will literally stumble to Thanksgiving in state of ravenous somnolence.

I fear that we’ve gorged ourselves into a stupor. Like the ghouls on film, we can’t stop consuming. We consume news, entertainment, food, sex, ideas, and people. We use up everything and everyone for our pleasure and our misery.

Instead of realizing our uncontrollable urge, we can only realize how disappointed we are. For starters, no one gives us the recognition we’ve earned, and we deserve. We complain about people, about the world, about our families, and about God (even when we claim he’s not there).

We need some sort of shock treatment to jolt us back into the glory of existence.

After almost languishing to death in the fatalistic art scene of the 1890s, G.K. Chesterton experienced a resurrection of sorts. He woke up and was stunned to be alive. In Orthodoxy, he writes, “The world was a shock, but it was not merely shocking; existence was a surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise.” Later, he would write, “Merely to exist for a moment, and see a white patch of daylight on a gray wall, ought to be an answer to all the pessimism of the world.”

By God’s grace, may we know this same jolt! If we are ever to escape the undying urge of self-consuming zombie feasting, we must know this same vital life. St. Bonaventure saw this life poured out in the cross. In love, God pours Himself into humanity in Christ. As a man, God pours his life out completely in the cross. Bonaventure saw this as the unrestrained love of the Son that holds nothing back—not even life itself. The answer to such an outpouring is unquenchable life: resurrection.

The resurrection reveals the Father’s kiss to the Son. The loving act of total outpouring of the Son is reciprocated by the Father in the act of outpouring the Spirit of Life into the Son. This death-life movement is the exact opposite of the zombie that craves human flesh. Instead of sucking life in, God pours life out.

We need a resurrection. We need the life of the Resurrected One. Thus, Bonaventure might direct our feasting to another thanksgiving meal: The Great Thanksgiving. The church calls the communion meal or the Eucharist, The Great Thanksgiving. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we encounter afresh the unrestrained love of God revealed in Christ.

This is real consuming, according William T. Cavanaugh. In “Being Consumed” he writes, “To consume the Eucharist is an act of anticonsumption, for here to consume is to be consumed, to be taken up into participation in something larger than the self, yet in a way in which the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.” In the Great Thanksgiving, we are welcomed into the communion of death and life.

We taste the mystery of love without restraint. Even as we remember the death of our Lord, we might forget our unrestrained craving. We might know the pain and joy of death and life in one movement.

Like Chesterton, we might be jolted awake from the sleep of the undead. We might discover the unexplainable mystery of being alive. Instead of killing zombies or becoming all consuming zombies this Thanksgiving, we might actually become thanksgiving, pouring out the unquenchable life and love of our Living Lord to the world around us.

Categories: meditation

Walking Away

May 17, 2011 5 comments

Walking Away In the Cold (picture used by permission)

On May 8th, my friend Jack King delivered a sermon about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He talked about how they are walking away from Jerusalem. That powerful image stuck in my mind, so I tried to write a meditation in responde to Jack’s sermon. 

They’re walking away.

Walking toward Emmaus, they leave Jerusalem behind.

Three days ago they still burned with hope that Messiah had come. They still believed the Kingdom of God was at hand. They still believed the glory of God’s people would soon be restored; the oppressive rule of Rome was coming to an end; the false king Herod would soon be deposed. They believed Jesus would restore the land, the Temple, and the people. God’s kingdom was breaking into their midst, and they were filled with joy and hope and anticipation.

Today they’re walking away.

Jesus died on the cross as a lowly criminal. His bold proclamations died with him. Their faith died as well.

Walking toward Emmaus, they leave behind faith and hope and love. They leave behind dreams that rotted on the vine. They leave behind promises that hang empty in the air. They leave behind a community of disciples that now lies in ruin. They leave behind everything that gave their life meaning.

Today they’re walking away.

An ache grips their throat choking down through to the bowels. It feels as though they’ve eaten a poison that kills from the inside out. They cough out dead words of dead dreams. They look through dead eyes at a dead world. What do you do when all hope is lost?

Walking toward Emmaus, they leave behind the future and search blindly for a past that is gone. Once you’ve tasted something so wonderful, so beautiful, so hopeful, where do you go when it dies? You can’t go back to what you knew before. So you’re stuck in between a dead past and hope less future.

Today they’re walking away.

They walk and move and breathe in the numbing emptiness of limbo.

Some of us know the road to Emmaus all to well. We’ve known the excitement of God’s people hoping and believing and experiencing His touch, but we’ve also known the loss of hope, the death of dreams, the sense that God left us, forgot us and possibly even abandoned us. Some of us are walking alongside these disheartened disciples as they leave the Holy City.

Walking toward Emmaus, the Risen Jesus joins his disciples in their unsightly death march. His disciples have lost hope, lost faith, lost vision. They’re leaving Jerusalem. They’re walking away. And Jesus is walking with them.

Even when his disciples are faithless, He is faithful. He walks beside. He hears their complaint. His listens to their groans. He even asks them questions.

In the fullness of time, He speaks. He rehearses the story of God in the midst of His people. He reveals the goodness of God in the midst of dead lives, dead dreams, dead people. Again and again and again, the Lord speaks His Word to His people in distress, in blindness, in darkness. Again and again and again, His Spirit quickens faith in their hearts.

Noah hears this Word amidst his blind and deaf world and builds an ark that will be the beginning of a new world. Moses hears the Word while wondering among the Midianites. Samuel hears this Word when Israel’s light is flickering and about to go out. David hears the Word in the tomb of the cave. Ezekiel hears the Word on the banks of the River Chebar in Babylon.

Again and again and again, the Word resurrects the dry and dead bones of God’s people. Many times, God’s people are not seeking, are not looking for Him, and are not even aware of Him. Their hope and faith have long since died. The Word of Life overcomes the darkness and quickens the dead to life.

Today Jesus is walking away.

He walks away from the Holy City to join his weary disciples in their flight from God’s work. He speaks. The ache of death fades as faith sparks afresh. Anticipation burns within. Suddenly, they can see. The Risen Lord stands among them, serving them, feeding them, sustaining them.

Walking toward Emmaus, we’re leaving behind the grand expectations we had for God. Stripped of our confidences, our conditions, our conclusions, we encounter the Risen One. He is walking with us. He is listening to our complaint. He knows our frustration and confusion.

At the outskirts of Jerusalem, we hear His strange and wondrous Word of God. And who knows? As we follow the Voice of this Holy Shepherd, we may end up walking along side those who left the Holy Spirit and are waiting in darkness for the Word of Life.

Categories: meditation

The Cave of Adullam

November 22, 2010 2 comments

David runs for his life. Death follows fast on his heels. In mad jealously, King Saul wants to take the head of the warrior who took the head of Goliath. Doeg the Edomite slays 70 priests in pursuit of this forsaken son.

And so David runs.

He runs to the Cave of Adullam. He runs to safety, to a fortress, to a tomb. From this cave he waits and waits and waits to face death.

David is not alone in the cave.

And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
(1 Samuel 22:2 ESV)

The cave is a fortress of the forsaken. In the cold dark place of death they gather.

They are in distress, pressed in from all sides, and crushed under the weight of problems, threats and struggles.

They are in debt, emptied with nothing left to give.

They are bitter in soul, waiting to die.

The cave is a tomb for those who’ve lost hope and can no longer see tomorrow.

David is not alone in the cave.

Job sits in the dark, struggling to understand. His world tremors under one disaster after another. A devastating fury lacerates his land. Raiders, whirlwinds, fires ravage his family, his flocks, his world. A disfiguring illness torments his body. A relentless grief plagues his soul.

Once a powerful lord, Job is reduced to a mere shadow, crying out day and night on a heap of ashes. Caught between the pangs of death and the emptiness of living, he exists day after lonely day. His comforters, condemn. God is silent. The cave swallows Job as he waits and waits and waits to face death.

David is not alone in the cave.

Ezekiel moans inwardly. The delight of his life, Ezekiel’s wife, dies. But God’s forbids him to mourn aloud. So he lives and speaks and acts day by day with the blinding loss hidden in his gut. His life is God’s very sign of Israel’s loss.

Born into the priesthood and raised to serve as priest in the Temple, Ezekiel never serves. Before his eyes, the Temple is destroyed and Jerusalem burns to the ground. Led away to the land of black clouds and false gods, he loses his homeland, his calling and his wife. Ezekiel prophecies judgment and waits and waits and waits to face death.

David is not alone in the cave.

Mary Magdalene has come to the end of all things. As the woman with seven spirits, she knows the desolation of complete forsakenness. With no hope, no family, nowhere to turn, she was falling and falling into darkness. Jesus took her hand and pulled her into light.

But now he is dead. Her hope lies in the tomb. She has nowhere to turn, no one to call. She sits at the cave, at the tomb, at the place of death. She cries with no tears. She screams with no noise.

She comes to cover Jesus’ body in spices, but he is gone. Instead of joy, she trembles in fear and confusion. Who has taken her hope? Who has stolen her joy? Mary sits by cave and waits and waits and waits to face death.

David is not alone in the cave.

I’ve known the cold, dark death of the tomb. I’ve felt the cool clutch of death seize my heart and drain my peace. I’ve known days that passed into night and back into days with no relief. As I write, I know some of you know this tomb all too well.

This is the place where God is silent. Darkness smothers. Words fall hollow. Hope seems lost.

This is the cold sabbath of Holy Saturday. We wait outside the tomb of Christ, wondering if we misunderstood. There are no words of hope. No reassuring feelings. No glimmers of light. Only a cold tomb where the body of our Savior lies. The thundering rule of death remains unchallenged and we grow weary, waiting and waiting and waiting to face death.

Jesus is not in the cave

In the twinkling of an eye, the Father speaks, the ground quakes, the Son arises. He who was dead is alive forevermore. He walks toward Mary, but she is blind to His love.

Jesus speaks and Mary arises with hope unshakeable. She goes forth as the first evangelist proclaiming the Good News of Him who has conquered.

In the land of darkness, Ezekiel beholds the light of glory. In his tomb of loss and death, the Lord calls his name. He arises and speaks to the four winds, he speaks to the valley of dry bones.

And behold a rattling…

Israel was dead but now is alive and from her bosom will flow healing for the nations.

Job runs out words. His complaint against God chokes in his throat as he sits, in silence. Then out of the whirlwind, the Lord answers Job. And the glory of the Lord shines all around. Job cannot answer. He can only behold, dumfounded by the wonder and majesty and beauty of the Lord on High. Job obediently prays for his friends.

David and his men do not die. But come forth as dread champions of the Lord. By God’s grace, those in distress, in debt and bitter in soul, come forth in the light of God’s glory. The Lord raises up David’s throne and from this very throne, Jesus rules and reigns the cosmos.

The cave does not, can not, will not have the final word. The voice of the Lord echoes through the place of the dead and the broken and weary and wounded come forth in his glory.

I have known the cave, and I have known the Father’s voice calling me forth to rest in the resurrection of Christ. In the cave, we are changed, transformed, and the tomb becomes a womb of new life in Christ.

So do not fear the cave. Eventually, we all go to the cave. But we are not forgotten. So rest. Wait. For the Risen One is Calling. By His word, we rise to new names, new vocations, new tomorrows. By His Word, we will rise and we will rise and we will rise to live in Christ forevermore.

Categories: meditation

Free to Love

April 29, 2010 6 comments

One day my brother-in-law bought my dinner. I reached to take the ticket saying, “You don’t have to do that.”

He smiled and said, “You’re right. I don’t have to do this.” Then he proceeded to pay for my meal.

He didn’t have to act. He was free to act.

Makes me think of an old story.

The late afternoon sun beat down upon Mechab’s arms. Heat rose from the dry and broken soil beneath him. His body ached. His thoughts drifted.

Mechab dreamed of eating honey, bread and some fresh cheese. Traveling back to Samaria from Jericho, he’d soon be resting in the arms of his beloved. Mechab smiled. The draining swelter of this balmy day would not slow his pace toward home.

A groan interrupted his thoughts.

Turning aside, Mechab looked for the source of this human anguish. Lying down the hill in a ditch that sometimes flowed with spring water, Mechab saw him.

As he looked, the grief of suffering pierced his side, and Mechab felt the grieving of this poor fellow deep in his bowels. Called by the agony of a fellow traveler, Mechab ran to the side of this, this Jew.

Without considering the implications of his actions, Mechab wrapped his strong arms around this wounded merchant. His sweat mixed with this man’s blood.

This was not his blood. Or the blood of his people. This man was his enemy. This Jew despised Mechab and his people. This Jew might just consider it God’s justice if Mechab were beaten and left for dead. This Jew could not even look at Mechab.

The force of ethnic tabus should have repealed Mechab, should have driven him away, should have formed an unassailable barrier between Mechab and this man.

But they didn’t.

Answering the call of one groaning voice that penetrated his thoughts, his heart, his stomach, Mechab acted without consideration. He violated his tribal, ethnic expectations to love this one man who cried out for help. In Mechab’s world, he violated the ethics of his culture to love and care for this man.

He didn’t have to help this man. He was free to help this man.

Ivan Illich once described this parable as a story of freedom. As Jesus told this strange story to bewildered Jewish listeners, he described a freedom that no one could understand. He described the freedom of the people of God.

This is a freedom from obligation, a freedom from duty, a freedom from cultural or ethnic expectations. This is a freedom that steps outside of status, race, and all power structures. This is a freedom to simply love another human being.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. He didn’t have to serve them. He was free to serve them.

When Jesus reconciled us to Himself. He didn’t have to bear our sin and suffering. He was free to bear our sin and suffering.

Jesus reveals a freedom of love that flows between Him and His Father. Jesus reveals a Love of the Spirit that blows where it will. In the Father, Son and Spirit, we behold and are immersed in a freedom that cannot be constrained, cannot be blocked, cannot be defeated. We behold a Love that creates and sustains us. We behold a Love that redeems.

Outside of this love, we are not, cannot be free. We are bound by our culture, our family, our society, our emotions, our sexual and physical drives, our expectations, our hurts, our struggles, our resentments, our memories.

In Christ alone, we are free.

There is more to say on this, but for now I’ll stop.

May we ask the Spirit of God to teach us the freedom to live by the breath of His love. We are free to bless, to encourage. By His Spirit, we step forward into a boundless love that knows no limit. A love that embraces friend and enemy alike.

We are free to love one another extravagantly, giving everything away–even our lives.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (and the end of all things)

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment
Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

In order to begin thinking about John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ and the end of all things, it might be helpful to think about the revelation of Jesus Christ throughout the whole Bible. Here are a few highlights just to get the mind (and heart) ruminating upon the revelation.

After Adam forfeits his rule by obeying the serpent, God promises his seed will arise to crush the serpent’s head. Paul teaches us that Jesus in the second Adam (who does in fact crush the serpent’s head).

Moses gives the Law to Israel, but realizes they will falter and disobey. He proclaims another Lawgiver will come. The people will hear and obey Him. Jesus comes as that Lawgiver and Law fulfiller. He gives His Spirit to the people and now the Law is written on the hearts of God’s people, so they will obey the law of love.

Joshua goes to battle on behalf of Israel. As he leads the armies of Israel, he meets the “Captain of the Lord’s Army” who will truly battle the enemies of God by harrowing hell and rescuing the captives. Jesus is the supreme warrior and commander of angel armies who defeats evil, so that the weak and oppressed may rest in the goodness of God’s love.

Israel lives through 400 years of judges. These judges can only offer a provisional peace and victory to Israel. But one day the true judge of Israel will come. When Jesus comes, the day of the Lord arrives. He is the judge who will separate the sheep and the goats. He is the judge who will exalt the humble and humiliate the exalted.

Israel lives through an age of kings. Some rule with wisdom and many rule foolishly. David is a king after God’s own heart and is promised that one day a king will come from the house of David who will defeat all Israel’s enemies, bring peace the the land and restore worship in the land. Jesus, the Messiah, is that king. He is born to the house of David and defeats the enemies of God, restores the land (the whole earth) and makes a way for the people of God to worship in spirit and in truth. He is the king before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess: Jesus is Lord.

The prophets call Israel back to the Law and the Covenant. They appears as voices in the wilderness (often literally), proclaiming judgment on the enemies of God, calling for repentance, and offering a vision of the kingdom of God that extends to all nations. The greatest prophet of all, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but another prophet is coming after him who will baptize with fire. Jesus is the prophet of God who baptizes His people in the fire of the Holy Spirit and sets these blazing bushes loose to bring the good news of the kingdom to every tribe and nation.

These are highlights and there are many more rhythms that final consummation in Jesus Christ. Before we can tackle the John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, we must come to realize the whole Bible has been a revelation of Jesus Christ, and John’s writings are written within this movement that is always finding fulfillment in the gracious, gentle and every loving ruler of time and space. All persons and all things find their consummation in Jesus. Thus, the end of all things is not the non-existence but the fulfillment of all things in Jesus.

Categories: Bible, faith, Jesus, meditation

Psalm 46

January 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Here are a few thoughts on Psalm 46 that I wrote over ten years ago. I found it this morning in an old html file from a website I had in the 90s. As I reread, I think it is still relevant for today.

This psalm reveals the holiness of God moving in and through His people in the midst of chaos. I believe this speaks to what is coming upon the earth.

First Stanza

Verse 1 – 3. “God is both refuge an strength for us, a help always ready in trouble; so we shall not be afraid though the earth be in turmoil, though the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, and it waters roar and seethe, and the mountains totters as it heaves.”

(Vs. 1) The Lord is Holy. His holiness is perfect order. Therefore, his holiness is our only true refuge in the midst of the chaos.

(Vs.2-3) Sin brings disorder. Sin always works to chaos. It removes the core, and everything begins to fall apart. Here is a picture of chaos tearing the earth apart. There is no internal unity, thus the foundations are crumbling and the world is returning to the dark waters before creation.

This passage can be understood globally and individually. Anywhere sin has a stronghold, chaos will follow. Sin will always bring internal disorder. It moves people out from the purposes of God. And outside of God’s purposes all cohesive energy dissipates, thus everything moves into disorder and chaos. Many people live in a state of chaos. Their internal world is falling apart. Soon more will follow. Entire nations reel to and fro in the midst of this lack of cohesive energy.

The crumbling brings confusion, darkness, fear, and destruction.

Refrain. Yahweh Saboath is with us, our citadel, the God of Jacob.

(Note: The New Jerusalem Bible inserts the refrain found in verses 7 and 11 after verse 3, thus dividing the Psalm into three stanzas.)

The refrain occurs three times. Each time it reminds us that God of Peace remains present to those who humble themselves and cry aloud for mercy. It is imperative we learn to enter and dwell (by faith) in God’s holy presence. This is the only place of rest and peace. Those who fail to abide will grow weak and faint before having entered into what God has planned for them.

Rabbis have debated the meaning of Yahweh for centuries. Sometimes it is rendered, “IAM IAM,” or “I will be as I will be.” In his book Moses, Martin Buber explains that many ancient cultures believed that names had power. They believed if you spoke the true name of a person or a god you could control them. Thus their religion sometimes incorporated a form of divination. They thought they could control their gods through the name.

Moses asks God for his name. But God doesn’t give him a name, instead he says, “YAHWEH.” Buber interprets this phrase, “I Am and Remain Present.” Thus God communicates to Moses, “You cannot summon me like the Egyptians summon their gods. I Am and Remain Present. In the midst of your 400 long years of suffering, “I Am and Remain Present.” You cannot summon me, but I Am and have always been present. Even when you rebelled. Even when you killed the Egyptian. I did not turn my back. I Am and Always Remain Present- calling you to turn towards me, to face me, and yield to me. Thus life is listening and turning to the voice of God.

Using Buber’s interpretation, consider the refrain. In the midst of chaos, God says to His people, “I Am and Remain Present.” The Holy One of Israel, the source of creation and all order, remains in the midst of His people. He calls us to turn and listen. To find refuge in His holiness. Like Jacob, we cry aloud for mercy, and His holy presence surrounds us, engulfs us. The holiness drives out chaos from within. Holiness brings fire, not to destroy, but to root chaos. Holiness restores creation to perfect order.

Second Stanza

Verses 4 – 6. There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city, it sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High. God is in the city, it cannot fall; at break of day, God comes to its rescue. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms are tumbling, when he raise his voice the earth crumbles away.

Jesus said that streams of living water flow out from his people. Each of those who cry out for mercy, are immersed in holiness. This holiness springs out through them. When the believers come together, these streams form a river of holiness which brings joy to the church and prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. As the Lord descends in the midst of the church, this river of life flows out from her. She is unconquerable. Moving in His purpose, the people of God, as one body, one river, stands strong.

The church has been weak and frail. While many churches have externally stood against the world, the internal forces of the world of selfishness worked chaos within the church. In the midst of the battle, she was weak. But as the holiness arises in and through God’s people, the church is rescued.

The true order is Christ in the center of the church in the center of creation. When the church is restored, then the Word of the Lord goes out from the church which brings an end to systems and structures and governments which operate in chaos keeping the curse upon the earth. The Word of the Lord flowing out from the church, breaks this power, kingdoms of darkness fall giving way to the light, to restoration.

At this point there is another refrain. Reminding us that God is and remains present. He is and remains our refuge. We can never move beyond the simple truth of practicing the presence of God.

Third Stanza

Verses 8 – 10. Come consider the wonders of Yahweh, the astounding deeds he has done on the earth; he puts an end to wars over the whole wide world, he breaks the bow, he snaps the spear, shield he burns in the fire. “Be still and acknowledge that I am God supreme over nations, supreme over the world.”

All the effects of the chaos come to a halt through the power of holiness. Works of destruction are brought to an end. And all mankind will see the glory of the Lord. This seems to point to the ultimate restoration of all things into Christ. Holiness does not simply change our inward character, it also transform everything outward. It brings true justice into the world. This is possibly the beginning of a second Eden.

The psalm ends with the refrain. Regardless of what has been or is coming, God is and remains present. We must not look for him in the past (i.e. – focusing too heavily on what he did in the past, including the Early Church). We also must avoid looking for him in the future (simply waiting for the great revival or renewal or restoration to come). As servants of the Lord, we learn to watch for His coming and meet Him in the now.

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)

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: , , ,

The Year Has Known Conversion

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment

As I gaze out upon my leaf-covered lawn, I am reminded, “the year has
known conversion.” Bobi Jones wrote those words as he stepped out into
a springtime bursting forth into new life, confessing, “energy is
everywhere.” As he celebrates that “winter has gone to its fathers,” I
watch winter return and begin overtaking the golden autumn afternoons
with freezing breath.

And once again, I think about the phrase, “the year has known
conversion.” Nothing remains. Oh that the glory of trees raining
colored leaves might last just a bit longer. But the gentle wonder
gives way to barrenness. And the season is left behind.

My world has known conversion this year. As most of you know, our
building caught fire last February. The Living Room that had hosted
weddings and movie nights, retreats and a weekly liturgy, caught fire
one Thursday morning. I got a call after lunch. We recovered boxes of
books for future cleaning. Then a few of us began meeting in the home
again as we left that season behind.

More recently, my job ended. One Thursday. And in true literary style,
I got a call after lunch. After months of dropping sales, our company
began cutting jobs. I packed up a few boxes for future sorting. Then I
came back home to work and left that season behind.

Even as I write these words, I realize that I am addressing many other
people who have known conversion this year. Some of you lost your jobs
in the midst of this struggling economy. Some of you have lost loved
ones to death. Some of you have known the death-like agony of
separation and divorce. And some of you have watched your savings
almost disappear as the stocks keep tumbling down.

Much like the barren trees, our lives sometime reflect a season of
stripping away. A time of loss and death. We know the uncertainty of
conversion that feels like the world has come to an end. Almost
weekly, I hear some preacher declaring the end of the world is at
hand. And in some ways they are most certainly right. The world has
ended for some people.

Listening to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide recently, I was
transfixed by the sudden and horrible devastation that can bring a
family, a nation, a world to an end. It reminds me of the insulation
lives that most Americans live. Tragedy happens to the other guy: the
person on the other side of the world. When it comes close, people cry
out, “Why me?”

In other ages and times, people have wondered, “Why not me?” Why did
it pass me by? Earlier this year, I read Barbara Tuchman’s revealing
account of the 14th century in the “The Distant Mirror.” The century
knew conversion. Darkness descended across Europe in ways that no 13th
century person could have anticipated.

The dramatic progress of the 12th and 13th century came crashing down
as famine, black plague, war, raiders, and other natural and man-made
disasters brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. And
in the midst of this devastation, some towns prospered. One town fell
victim to complete annihilation by the black plague and another town
didn’t experience a single case, leaving survivors to wonder, “Why did
I survive?”

As I think about the chaos of the 14th century and I consider the
chaos that ripples across the world in the 21st century, think of the
Spirit of God who hovers over the waters of the deep. Again and again
in Scripture, the Lord shows up in the midst of flooding, fire, wind,
and death.

The Bible doesn’t present a world free of problems and suffering and
pain. Rather, we are confronted with a disturbing portrait of man’s
inhumanity against man. We see evil expressed in violence, war, and
all manner of human suffering. We behold people who face the same pain
and anguish and barrenness that sometimes comes close to our lives and
into our homes.

And yet, we also see God in the midst. The ocean of chaos that
threatens all order cannot threaten God. He consistently enters into
the midst of his suffering people. In the gospels, we behold the Lord
of Glory entering in to our frailty, our suffering, our pain, our
death.

And what does he do in death?

He creates a new man, a new world. All things are made new. The chaos
doesn’t threaten him. When the world seemed be coming apart in the
14th century, His Spirit brought winds of change in the 15th and 16th
century that opened new possibilities for people throughout the world.

When it seems like our world is colliding to an end, His grace can
heal and renew and revision and recreate our lives, our families, our
world. Whether we suffer sickness or job loss or financial problems or
relational strains. He has not abandoned us in this season of winter.

This brings me back to Bobi’s line, “The year has known conversion.”
When Bobi uses the word conversion, he is drawing from a deeper well
than just change. He is called upon this conversion that our Savior
reveals in His resurrection. He brings life out of death. He writes,

“Winter has gone to its fathers.
It was sharp; alive. And look at them here:
Life has triumphed over life, and death death
On this everlasting meadow that is
A Cross for the year.
Spring came through the mouth of the morning
Its tongue clamouring hotly on the petals of sunrise
Like the boots of a soldier coming home.”

His poem stirs my heart, as I continue gazing at the barren trees in
my yard. Even as the coldness of winter sometimes to grip our world
and our homes and our lives, He is coming. The Soldier who harrowed
hell is coming. And even in the midst of our endings, He is a
beginning. Let us rejoice at the newness of His grace that surrounds
us even now, and look expectantly for the new shoots to spring forth
in the midst of the old.

On Gifts and Calling

October 24, 2008 2 comments

In my wistful moments, I’ve dreamt of being a poet. And in the gentle mornings hours, there’ve been times when that dream took form in words and cadence and poor articulations from a voice that longs to speak something real in iron and stone.

But my poetic voice comes and goes, and I realized at some point that while I delighted in the expression, my writing was not great art. But rather scribblings of soul trying to follow in faltering steps a call that haunts me.

I once dreamed of speaking to large crowds who would sway and fall under the weight of my words. But those large crowds have often taken form in a handful of folks in my living room or in one friend during an extended lunch.

It seems that when God called me, He called me out from the successful and ever-growing church as I knew it, and into the lonely quiet of caves (better known as cubicles).

For a season I fought this exile by reminding myself that my intellect would one day reap great acclaim from audiences far and near. Over time, I’ve come to realize that I know far less than most people and understand even less of what I know. My only formal training was rhetoric, and I am a dismal failure as a rhetorician.

Whether in writing or speaking or thinking, I’ve come to peace with the limitations of my abilities and opportunities. And yet, following Chesterton’s advice, I continue to delight in all three because “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

Every so often I am reminded of the gifts and calling that I bear. Rather than being called to soar to great heights of profound erudition, I’ve been given the simple gifts of laughter and tears.

These are the two small gifts that I can give to the world. As I grow older, the tears fall more and more easily and often in embarrassing moments (when I would like to restrain). And oddly enough, I might be unaware of the laughter if it were not for people turning there heads toward the sound of my voice.

It is in laughter and tears where I am most vulnerable and most human. The sheer joy of being alive is not something I actively cultivate but something that overflows as a gift from the Father above. And that joy only stops when I fill the well with dirt because of my own pains and self-focus.

The tears flow as reminders that I live and breathe and enjoy as gift gracious gift from my Father above.

In the quietness of this moment, I am fully aware that beside the gifts of laughter and tears, I offer little to the world around me. And I am at peace with God’s grace working in the midst of that. Yet I know that a few hours from now, I will struggle once again with longing for respectability and honor and glory from the people around me.

By God’s grace, I would pray that I “would not think of myself more highly than I ought” but rest in the form which the Lord Himself has created and called forth into His glory. And may I live but for the word and blessing and acceptance from my good and gracious Lord.

Categories: meditation Tags: , , , , , ,
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