Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Gift

Christmas Past: The Good Old Days. For most of my life, especially since I was seven years old, this time of Christmas had personal, deeply meaningful significance to me, as it does to millions of others around the world. It was more than just Santa Claus, Christmas trees, last minute shopping, giving gifts to people you don't know that would be taken back, discarded, or delivered to some other hapless victim next Christmas. It was more than just a holiday from work or school. It was more than a traditional celebration of some great person from ages past.

Christmas Past, for me, was the reminder that God became man, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death on a horrible cross, and was raised three days later in glorious triumph over death, hell and the grave. It was a celebration that through his coming to this suffering, imperfect, fallen planet, dwelling with his own marred creation, I have hope of a personal redemption, the experience of an eternal joy, the awesome prospect of being the singular object of the love of the God of the universe.

I first encountered this personal meaning of Christmas November 12, 1972, a Sunday evening. I was seven years old. Through the example of my Mama, who had been recently converted, and the help of some friends, I walked down the aisle of the Open Door Missionary Baptist Church in Trenton, Georgia, to come face to face with this One who came so long ago, and whose birth we celebrate every Christmas.

The question posed to my seven year old mind by Tom V. as he talked to me that night was one I could understand: “Do you believe that if you were standing in the road about to be run over by a big truck, Jesus loves you enough to push you out of the way and die in your place?”

I understood that. I did believe that. And with a simple prayer, I put my child's faith and trust in that idea: that this man who lived and died 2,000 years ago loved me just that much, and wanted to be my Friend. And so he was.

And from then on, Christmas Past meant more to me.

“Jesus is Lord.” By age 14, I had forgotten some of my child's faith, that trust, and that friendship. I was going through the normal struggles teens go through, but the path I was on was not leading me anywhere good.

Again, through the help of my Mama, and our former pastor and his wife, Jim and Bobbie M., I was to come to a place in June, 1979, of renewing my friendship with the Man whose birth Christmas signifies. And, beyond friendship, I learned to call him Lord.

He not only wanted to be with me; he wanted to rule me. My life was to be his, totally. He was to guide my life in every respect, every detail, as I trusted him. And so I did.

The next 20 years were an adventure I could never have dreamed: I entered the ministry, moved to Dallas, Texas, to study theology, and all those Christmases Past were reminders of the gift and life that were mine because of that baby born in Bethlehem.

The Denial. At the end of 2001, I became suddenly, violently ill, seemingly at times to the point of death. In the process I lost my career, threw away my marriage, and began to forget Christmases Past.

My life had not turned out the way I had envisioned, the way I had hoped. Doubt replaced faith. Questions replaced answers. I was angry and confused.

In the years since then, though I have had periods when I have remembered Christmas Past and all that it had represented to me, and renewed my faith, the doubts, questions, and confusion remained.

By December, 2009, I had reached the place where I thought I had put God and my old faith in a big box, taped it shut, marked “DO NOT OPEN” on it, and stored it securely in the attic of my life, where you might put something that once had been valuable and useful, but now only has sentimental value, if even that. I thought that I had moved on with my life, reconciled to doing the best I could do without God and my faith.

Christmas Present, December 25, 2009, was going to be just another day for me out here on this road driving my big orange truck.

“I love you. I'm still here. I'm not through with you.” Last weekend in that frame of mind, I went to Dallas, the city I love, and saw people that I love. Two of the people I saw were Stretch and Orie, people I've known for over 20 years, and with whom I worked in ministry for several years in Dallas.

They encouraged me, loved me, prayed for me.

And reminded me of Christmas Past.

Being around them stirred something deep in my heart that I could not explain away, could not rationalize, could not question. It was familiar. It was God climbing out of the box I'd tried to put him in.

Over the past few days, I have been forced to confront my doubts, fears, questions, hurts, hopes, and dreams. I have talked to many of the people I'm thankful to have in my life, friends and family alike.

Through all the confusion shines the clear message of Christmas: “I love you. I'm still here. I'm not through with you.”

Christmas Present will mean more than I had thought it might.

What a gift!

Until next time . . . Jesus is Lord! . . . Jesus' Love Rules!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am here for you buddy and will until I pass. Love you - Tim