Friday, December 26, 2008

"Merry Christmas, Dad."

Here's my favorite Christmas gift this year, a picture of our three kids which they had taken without our knowledge and on the fiftieth try managed to capture their perfect smiles. I love the picture, but at the same time it made me a little melancholy. Our children are looking less and less like kids and more and more like grownups. Suzanne and I know our time is growing short. Our nest will be empty before we know it. Time goes straight ahead.

Anyway, we couldn't be prouder of our three. And, I'm feeling better about those frustrating moments of parenthood, when capital punishment seemed to be the only appropriate response. I'm glad in hindsight, that I chose other options. I feel very, very blessed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Feeling Kind of Blue

Are you feeling a little blue this Christmas? Not Smurf blue, of course. Deep, dark, depressed blue, blue clear down to the bottom, blue no matter how bright the twinkling lights or how sweet the holiday tunes. Blue even when all the world seems to be celebrating.

Why so blue? It could be lots of things or nothing you can put your finger on. Take your pick:
  • unrealistic expectations
  • unresolved grief
  • past hurts remembered
  • unwillingness to forgive
  • loneliness
  • financial pressure
  • dissatisfied with job, career
  • disillusioned with life
  • fearful about the future
  • unable to accept God's grace
Wow. That's enough to get anybody down. So, don't be too hard on yourself if you are feeling blue. You've got your reasons, that's understandable. But don't stay there, don't grovel in it, don't settle down and soak in it. Let's move on, move out, move up from the pit of depression, just high enough to gain a new perspective. It's painful and it's difficult, I know. I'm not naive and I have fought my own bouts with the blues. And I know firsthand how bright the new day dawns.

Scot McKnight tells the story of Vincent van Gogh and the color yellow: "This famous Dutch painter, sadly, tossed away the truth imparted him in his Christian home and sank into depression and destruction. By the grace of God, as he later began to embrace the truth again, his life took on hope, and he gave that hope color.

The best-kept secret of van Gogh's life is that the truth he was discovering is seen in the gradual increase of the presence of the color yellow in his paintings. Yellow evoked (for him) the hope and warmth of the truth of God's love. In one of his depressive periods, seen in his famous The Starry Night, one finds a yellow sun and yellow swirling stars, because van Gogh thought truth was present only in nature. Tragically, the church, which stands tall in this painting and should be the house of truth, is about the only item in the painting showing no traces of yellow. But by the time he painted The Raising of Lazarus, his life was on the mend as he began to face the truth about himself. The entire picture is (blindingly) bathed in yellow. In fact, van Gogh put his own face on Lazarus to express his own hope in the Resurrection.

Yellow tells the whole story: life can begin all over again because of the truth of God's love. Each of us, whether with actual yellows or metaphorical yellows, can begin to paint our lives with the fresh hope of a new beginning."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Coming Home for Christmas

Last week I listed my favorite lines from some of the classic Christmas movies, but I left out one of the best, the Walton's "Homecoming." Here's the concluding scene for you to enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Enjoying a Not So Perfect Christmas

Okay, the box says "Pre-lighted Christmas Tree" and that's a lie. It was dark in the box when I opened it up and there was not a twinkle of light while I put it together. The print should read, "Just might light, at least a little, maybe most of them, but absolutely no way are all 350 lights coming on or staying on." That's what it should say, but that's a lot of ink. So, here I sit, looking at our wondrous tree with soft glistening lights of red, blue, green, white, and pink, and a nice dark ring about two thirds of the way up and another dark patch at the bottom. Not so nice.

I did my part, four times, checking each bulb and wire and connection, each time feeling less like Cratchit and more like Scrooge. I'm telling you, this tree is a humbug if I ever saw one. I went to K-Mart's after Christmas sale a couple of years ago and did my part for the Chinese economy, I bought this "so realistic you can almost smell it" tree. Well, it stinks now, that's for sure.

And maybe that's part of the problem with Christmas. We have idealized our traditions and celebrations so that the bar is set awfully high each year. We want everything to be just right, just so, and when something goes awry, and something always does, our disappointment is magnified. The turkey is dry, the tree won't light, Grandma's gift got lost in the mail, your son has to work on Christmas. And when it comes to celebrating Christmas, it is hard for us to just relax and roll with the punches.

A family Christmas is a wonderful explosion of joyful chaos, at least that's the way I remember it. So, I'm going to loosen up and let the lights shine where they will.

Joseph was looking for a Holiday Inn Express and had to settle for a barn, and he managed. It's not the trees or the trimmings or the trappings of the season that matter after all. If the Child arrives, it's Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wise Men: Three Who Made a Difference for Me

Three wise men. No, not the shadowy Magi that rode camelback across the desert pursuing a mysterious star. The Christmas story never tells us how many Magi, only listing three gifts. And somewhere between the scripture and the carols they all were promoted to royalty. Tradition has even added names - Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. Nothing like a little good fiction to fill in the gaps, inspire a few songs, and sell a few cards.

I'm thinking of three wise men who went far out of their way to give good gifts to me. And, if you give it a moment's thought, I'll bet you can remember two or three of your own. Special friends, wise mentors, difference-makers in your life. Let me introduce three wise men to you.

I begin with David O. Moore, my Old Testament professor and the consummate Christian gentleman even in the face of criticism and personal attacks. Dr. Moore helped me connect rigorous scholarship and passionate faith. He kept me headed in the right direction, not letting me give up on the local church. When Dr. Moore retired, he brought me two grocery sacks of books selected from his personal library to help me in my ministry as a pastor. I still treasure and use those books complete with his notes in the margins.

I cannot forget Jerry Cain, my campus minister, who gave me, a bright-eyed freshman, so many unique opportunities to use my fledgling gifts, allowing me to stick my tentative toe in the ocean of ministry, eventually finding the courage to jump in head first. Now Dr. Cain is a college president, slightly more dignified, but still the same Jerry who opened many doors and made a huge difference for me.

And last of all, I think of Lewis Krause, my mentor and friend and surrogate father after Dad died, who from the first time we met somehow believed in me. I cannot think of Lewis without a smile and a chuckle. He ministered for many years in hard times and tough situations around the world and yet he never lost his joy. What a remarkable gift of encouragement he gave to me.

There you have it. Three wise men. Where would I be if they had not arrived just when I needed them? Thank you, God, for sending them my way.

Care to share your wise men or women?