Good morning everybody. I am privileged to be here and share with you some thoughts. So, I went back to the e-mail exchanges that Leighton and I have had over the last several months since we arranged this, and part of it was tell your story; part of it was this is a Christmas and Advent gathering; part of it was what he just said. What does God have to say to Wall Street? So, I've got a list of things. I'm just going to ramble for oh, two/three hours, and then we'll serve lunch. Maybe we'll do a Q&A, and then we'll go into group study, and then we'll have dinner. What do you think? Is that a good plan?
Since it's Christmas, I thought I'd start with some thoughts about what the world thinks:
- What do they call Santa's helpers? Subordinate clauses.
- What do you call Santa Claus after he's fallen into a fireplace? Crisp Kringle.
- Which of Santa's reindeer needs to mind his manners the most? Rude-olph.
Some of you are awake, that's good…
- Where do Santa's reindeers like to stop for lunch? Deery Queen.
Yes, stretch your imagination. I love this one…
- The three stages of man: One, he believes in Santa Claus. Two, he doesn't believe in SantaClaus. Three, he is Santa Claus.
That was the humorous part of the comments. I'm glad you laughed. Here's the Wall Street part:
“My Favorite Things”
Here's what a couple of presidents had to say about Christmas. Calvin Coolidge, to the American people, “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will to be plenteous and mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a savior and over us will shine a star, sending its gleam to the hope of the world.” I don't necessarily agree with all the theology, but there are some kernels there from Calvin Coolidge that I think we can take with us. Here's a sobering comment from President Ronald Reagan. “Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees and tinsels and reindeers, but there must be no mention of the God Man whose birthday is being celebrated.” I wonder what teachers answer if the student asks “why it's called Christmas.” Sobering reminder of our times. John Rice, “You can never truly enjoy Christmas until you can look up into the Father's face and tell him you have received his Christmas gift.” I hope and pray for each one of you if you have, at some point in life, accepted that Christmas gift into your heart. Charles Wesley, “Hark the Herald Angels sing, glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” That's the story, is it not?
Some of my memories of Christmas, which Leighton asked me to comment on as well. We mostly had Christmas at home, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. When I was a kid, we were told unless you went to bed and to sleep, at midnight, Santa would blow your eyes out! I do remember one Christmas, we lived in a row home, and so there were alleys behind these homes that were all connected, and my bedroom window looked across the alley, and I know on the house in the next row, I know I saw the reindeer and Santa, I know I saw them. The next morning when I got up, looked, and there was Mrs. Mahaley’s antenna for a TV set sitting up there. It was probably blowing in the wind, that's what I saw. Like many of you, we had a big meal, we had Christmas cookies. I chose a college for lots of reasons, but one of the key ones was the exams had to happen before Christmas, so I could enjoy Christmas break. Some of you have gone through that, or you have kids that they come home, and the exams are just hanging over their heads. We should abolish that, so kids can enjoy Christmas and family.
The specific Christmas I remember well was 1986. I met my wife-to-be in September, and Christmas Eve, we were on a plane heading to Dallas, where she's from, for me to meet her family. We were going to head right to church, and so we were decked out. She had a red dress on for Christmas. I had my suit on, and we're all ready to go, and Christmas Eve, I guess a lot of people don't travel Christmas Eve. We were heading for the 11:00 service. I don't know what time the flight was, and they saw us, and what a handsome couple, and they put us in first class. Remember those days? I mean, they just walked out into the crowd and put us in first class. Wonderful meal. We walked off the plane. They handed us a bottle of champagne. Those were the days when airlines were losing money!
As you heard in the introduction, I have the privilege of leading choir and playing keyboard, organ, and piano at our church. We have two services each Christmas Eve and this is a wonderful memory each year and a way to exult Christ. We celebrate in the second service at 11:00 Communion, and the pastor aims the Communion to happen right at midnight. It usually does, and it's just a wonderful reminder of why Christ came, how he was born. Of course, we celebrated that for the first hour, and then of course, he was born to die in the memory, in Communion, and why we go through that process. A wonderful set of memories.
Music is huge at Christmas. Is it not? It is said that more people are open to music at Christmas than any other time of year. The privilege of directing our choir, we do a service of lessons and carols just about every year. I'm going to read you the words of a few of the anthems that we're going to sing this year as they have spoken to me in this particular Advent season. I hope at least one of them speaks to you. From Mendleson, “As bright the star of morning gleams, so Jesus shed us glorious beams of light and consolation. Thy word, oh Lord, radiance darting truth in parting. Give salvation. Thine be praised in adoration”. Here's one, John Rutter, one of the most prolific choral composers of our time. Lives in the UK and unless he's had a change of heart, John Rutter does not know Jesus Christ, and yet he creates some of the most wonderful, wonderful music for this time of year.
It's amazing how God works through all kinds of things. God works in mysterious ways.
Here's another one, a contemporary one.
I pray my life is a prayer on bended knee, yours, too.
When I think of this night, the wonder of it all, I can only imagine the joy. Can you imagine being there that first Christmas night?
One more, I referenced earlier that Christ was born to die. Most of you know that, and while we celebrate the birth, the birth of Jesus points to his death, his resurrection, as, Leighton reminded us, is coming and triumphal re-entry into this planet.
Advent. Advent means arrival, and it's been observed for centuries as you know as a time to contemplate Christ's birth. Plenty of people today acknowledge Advent with sort of a blank stare. December is a busy time, a flurry of activities in what's called the holiday season. It turns sometimes to be stressful for people. I see that on Wall Street all over the place. A time of more contrasting emotions than any other time of year. We're eager on one hand, yet frazzled on another. Sentimental on one hand, indifferent on another. The thought of getting together with family and friends and the next minute people can feel very alone.
We sense the deeper meaning of the season, but then grasp that in vain sometimes because the hustle can leave society and culture frustrated and drained. Content with carols and good food and meeting with people we love, family, and friends, reciprocal acts of kindness, feelings of general good will dominate. I see that all over Wall Street, and yet how many of us remember the harsh realities of Christ's first coming? The dark and dank stable. The cold night, the closed door at the inn. That coming is not just something that happened in the past. It's a recurring possibility in our lives, and of course, the promise of the second Advent lurks ever so current right in front of us. To paraphrase the modern martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he says, “Frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.” Interesting thought about Advent. Transformation, which I'm going to talk about as God is working in mine, and I hope your life, can never be achieved by human means, but only by Divine intervention. Isn't that what Christmas is all about? Within the manger lies the cross. The hope of redemption and resurrection.
Richard C. Halverson in 1996 wrote the following, and with this, I want to encourage you on a bunch of things related to, “Where are you in your walk with God?” He says,
“Dear friend, you're going to meet an old man someday down the road, 10, 20, 30 years. You'll catch up with him waiting for you there. What kind of an old man are you going to meet? He may be a seasoned gracious fellow surrounded by a host of friends, who call him Blessed because of what his life has meant to them, or he may be a bitter disillusioned dried up, cynical old buzzard without a good word for anybody. Soured, friendless, and alone. The kind of old man you'll meet depends entirely on you because that old man will be you. He'll be a composite of everything you do, say, and think. His mind will be set in the mold you've made by your attitudes. His heart will be turning out what you've been putting into it. Every little thought and deed of yours goes into this old man. He'll be exactly what you make him. Nothing more, nothing less. It's up to you. Is it not? You'll have no one else to credit or blame. Live now only for what you can get out of life, and then the old man becomes smaller, drier, harder, crabbier, and more self-centered. Open your life to others. Think in terms of what you can give, and the old man grows softer, kinder, greater, more Christ-centered. The fact is the hidden things in life, attitudes, goals, ambitions, desires may seem unimportant now, but they're adding up on the inside, are they not? Well, you can't see them crystallizing in our hearts and minds but will show up sooner than we think. It's time to pay that old man a visit and care for him before it's too late.”
For me, one of my life verses has been Romans 12:2, and I'll read you one and two.
“I appeal to you therefore brothers by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. That by testing, you may discern what is the will of God. What is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Christmas and all through the year, one of two paths is happening for us. In this Christmas season, I think it's a wonderful time for us to think about which path we are on. We are either by active choice and intervention of the Holy Spirit being transformed, being made more like our savior, Jesus Christ, or if we don't take that active role, we are being passively conformed to this world. There's no in between. Which path are we on?
Let me read the key words in verse two in the JB Phillips' translation, “Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within.” Whether you're on Wall Street, like I am, or whatever it is that you do with your daily life, the pressures unseen but ever present to be conformed to what this world is, is pervasive. The question is, “Is our faith strong enough that we are seeking actively day by day to be transformed?” I often think every day I show up at work or wherever I show up at church to do a choir rehearsal, an attitude arrives with me. Apostle Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors of Christ in all that we do. Do we have “the fragrance of Christ”, to use Paul's words. The attitudes to remind others of Jesus, and there's nothing better than the fruit of the spirit; Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They should make up our attitudes, should they not?
A.W. Tozer, who's had a lot of influence on me over the years. I don't re-read a lot of books, but his Pursuit of God, I've read several times. Here are two paragraphs that I think can speak deep into our souls on this subject, this is in a section call the Veil of Selfishness.
It is the woven of the fine threads of the self-life. The hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They're not something we do. They are something we are and there-in lies both their subtlety and their power. To be specific, the self-sins are self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us, and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention until the light of God is focused upon them.
I just love that phrase. We can't do it ourselves; we need the light of God focused on it. The Advent season is a wonderful time to let that light shine.
Wall Street is often thought of as a place of greed and excess, and sometimes you do see that. Although, I would say having been on Wall Street now for almost 35 years, that is the exception, not the rule. They're the pictures we typically see. USA Today ran a poll on Americans. “What's the most important ‘religious question’ that you have?” I would have thought it'd be something like “Is there life after death?” Mentioned three times more than that was “What is the purpose of my life?” That's what people dwell on. What is the purpose of my life? Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I dwell on that often. Do I examine my life? Do you examine your life? How do we measure our lives? How do we measure success? Folks these days, I think it's more common among men, but many women I know, the same, define ourselves by what we do, by how we do it, our performance if you will. Not by our relationships. We're missing so much if we overdo it there. This transformation progress report. What does it look like for you?
You say, you know, how do I check that out? Here's one thing I do regularly. I look at my checkbook and my calendar. I look back over time. I go through a silly exercise from time to time. I say, you know, Saturday afternoon at 2:00, Jesus Christ is going to come knocking on the door. Come on in I say but I have an hour. Can I see your checkbook, and can I see your calendar? Whew…how would you feel about that? Because where we spend our time and our money, among other things, really tells where our passions are. What's really, really important to us. Instead of asking “What can we spare?” do we ask “What will it take when it comes to time, talent and treasury?”
Os Guinness says, “We have too much to live with and too little to live for.” Oooh…thank you Os, I didn't need that! It's a lot easier to look at the bumper that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins”. You've seen that bumper sticker, I'm sure. We all know Jesus Christ talked about possessions more than his combined teachings on Heaven and Hell. I think he had Wall Street in mind when he made all those comments about our attitudes toward things. How much did John D. Rockefeller leave, his accountant was asked, reply, “All of it.” Sobering comment. Hudson Taylor. I love his work. “The less I spend on myself, and the more I give to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.” You all know God owns everything. We are simply stewards of what he's given us. Yeah, that's “money’, but it's the very bodies that we have. It’s the time he gives us on this planet, the brain cells, as many or as few as we have. How are we using them? Is it a conforming process or a transforming process? That's what I try to look in the mirror and say, “Am I being transformed”? That's my prayer. That's my hope. I hope it's your prayer and hoping there's an action plan to get it done. God prospers us, I believe not to raise our standards of living but to raise our standards of giving. David Platt says in his book, Radical, “There's never going to be a day where we stand before God, and he says, just why didn’t you keep more for yourself?” I don't think David (Platt) had in mind just money, but it's all of life.
Back to the old man that Richard C. Halverson talked about. If we become inward focused, we become crusty and our world shrinks. If we're outward, and others focused, there's a lot to live for, which takes me to the subject of calling. I want to spend a few minutes, and then ask ourselves a couple of questions. Then we'll wrap this up. Calling is an important concept for everybody, especially, but not exclusively, for the Christian.
For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans for welfare, not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29.
Colossians 1 - Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Our response to God's plan.
What gets us out of the bed in the morning? What really excites us? Of course, our primary calling is to follow Christ as Savior and to walk with him as Lord. That's the primary calling for all of us. As I said earlier, and I hope and pray all of us have settled that score. It doesn't mean just to know about Him. It means to know Him personally. Our secondary calling is unique for each one of us. It has to do with our experiences, our giftedness, our talents, our ability, our interests, it all comes together. What does that look like for you? As a husband, a wife, a father, a worker, a church member, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? Our secondary calling is informed by all the experiences that we have, and God guides us and works in our lives, especially when we open ourselves to Him.
I'm going to end with seven -- what I'm going to call tertiary callings. Now, the theologians in the room, I don't want to offend you. The Bible's pretty clear about primary calling and secondary calling. Tertiary callings, you know, I made that up, but I think they fit. It has to do with the verse, “…walk in a matter worthy of the calling to which you've been called.” I think the Bible is full of do this and avoid that; hundreds of things that are tertiary callings. Continue “to work out our salvation”, is another way to put it, “with fear and trembling” during this Advent season. I said there are hundreds. Knowing a little bit about theology, I've chosen seven of them. Seven's a good theological number!
The first one: The Danger of Busy-ness. We're all preoccupied with life, I suspect, and sometimes we can get so busy doing a lot of good things that we miss the best things. True at Christmas time for sure in the busy-ness of the season. In fact, this is a good month to say, am I really focused on the best things, or am I just doing a lot of good things? I would broaden that to all of life. I mentioned Romans 12:2. We'll be squeezed into the world's mold. We'll do a lot of good things, or I love the saying that the Devil, if he can't make you bad, he will make you busy, so that you focus on a lot of good things, which are sort of innocuous as he looks at life and miss some of the best things. I don't know what good versus best means in your life, but I hope there's some enunciation and some examination. You are doing some best things. Nothing wrong with good things, but make sure the best are sprinkled in liberally.
The other extreme, The Danger of the Comfortable Life. I see this in Wall Street a lot. Guys working hard. What are you working for? I'm working for the weekend and retirement. They don't come out quite that bluntly. Sometimes they do. I can't wait for Friday. I'm so tired. Two more years, and I'm retiring. You all probably know, retirement is nowhere in the Bible. That word is not there. That doesn't mean we don't end what we're doing and do something else. God didn't make us to sit in an EZ-Chair and put our feet up. He made us to be a worker just like he is, back to the Bible and Wall Street Journal together. There was an experiment done at Berkeley. An amoeba was put in the perfect conditions; perfect temperature, perfect light, perfect food. You know what that amoeba did? It died. The danger of the EZ-Chair. Nothing wrong with sitting in your EZ-Chair, but if you sit in your EZ-Chair too much, you miss so much about relationships, so much about tackling the needs of the world. “Where does your deep expression of motivation and talent meet the world's great need?” Frederick Buechner.
Number three: Balancing Being and Doing. I need this in my life all the time, and Wall Street needs it too. The emphasis is on doing. How did you do? How much did you do? How hard did you do? Rarely in personnel reviews do we get evaluated based on how were you being when you did what you did. I suspect God is more interested in our being than what we do, not that he doesn't care about what we do. Yet, if we get the being part right, the doing maybe takes care of itself.
Number 4: The Capacity for Gratitude. There's a fine line between living life with a heart of gratitude and the opposite. You all know people who walk both extremes. I think gratitude is the healthy ability to experience life as a gift. It opens us to the wonder, the joy, it brings an attitude of humility, especially important in Advent time, or at least emphasizes that. It's always important. It makes our hearts generous. It liberates us from the self sins that Tozer talked about, self -preoccupation. I think gratitude is the gift that God gives us that enables us to be big time appreciators of all His other gifts. Without gratitudes, our lives can degenerate into envy, dissatisfaction, complaining, taking what we have for granted, and always wanting more. Boy, do I see that on Wall Street, always wanting more. Someone said to me; “I wanted to be a millionaire. Once I became a millionaire, I wanted $10 million. Once I got $10 million, I wanted $100 million, and now I've got $500 million, I want to be a billionaire.” Somebody said that to me recently. It never ends…
Number 5: The Danger of Unforgiveness. I can be brief on this one. There is no room for that. How dare we look in the eyes of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and say thank you for forgiving me, and then we turn around, have a lack of forgiveness for the guy or the gal next to us for something that happened 20 years ago. Only place for unforgiveness is at the foot of the cross. Advents are wonderful. Christmas is a wonderful time to think about that and get rid of those things.
Number 6: Trophies versus Crowns. Subtle difference between the intrinsic and extrinsic awards, between trophies and crowns. Is it wanting to do well to please others, or is it wanting to do well to have the corner office? Nothing wrong with the corner office. I hope some of you sit in corner offices. But trophies can become shrines, can become tools to prop up image, self-image, that's false of ourselves. Of course, the beauty of crowns as we receive them in Heaven is to turn around and give them right back to our Savior I can't wait until that day.
Finally, number 7: Growing through Suffering. I've had a very blessed, and most would say pretty easy life, like all of you, a few bumps along the way. One recent hard one for me was two years ago, I lost my job. I had a lot of lessons to learn as I found out after the fact that losing the job hit me between the eyes, but that wasn't the important part. The important part was I had transferred some of my identity to my very work. Whose am I? Not who am I in some company. Control. My wife called me on the carpet on that one; “Bob, you've been in control of your life kind of since I've known you. Are you in control, or is God in control as you claim he is?” That was a wonderful time to examine that and on and on it goes. No one ever said they learned their deepest lessons of life or had their sweetest encounters with God on the sunny days. We go deep with God, and we learn more about ourselves when the drought comes, do we not? That's the way God designed it. When everything in life is stripped away except God, and we trust him more because of it, this is gain, and He is glorified. I sometimes marvel at the growth of the church from the global south these days. I wonder how much of it's because they don't have the trappings of life so much like many of us do. Is that the reason in Europe and increasingly America, we are cold hearted or lukewarm to faith? We don't need God, but yes we do. God will use whatever trials are necessary to intensify our savoring of who He is.
Those are the seven lessons that I am learning. I can't claim I've learned any of them. I wish I had more time to give personal illustrations. I just gave you one on growing through suffering. Let me end this way. Rather morbidly, we're all going to die someday. Most of us will have a tombstone. Mine will say, Bob Doll, 1954-some other date which I hope is many years in the future. We have no control of the first date. We have little, if any control, in the second date. But the hyphen in between, it's ours. What are we doing with our hyphen? Here's one man who did a lot with his hyphen. Most of you know who he is.
One Solitary Life
There's a man who used his hyphen, the God Man. I pray and trust you know him, and that his spirit is transforming you in this wonderful, wonderful time we call Advent Christmas.
Let's pray. Our Father, we thank you that we live in a place where we can talk about things that matter to you, and yet Father, I wonder as I look at my own life and ask the question for my brothers and sisters and friends in this room, do we have so much that it's hard for us sometimes to really get down deep with you and recognize that you are our only hope. Help us to surrender in this Advent season all that you have given us because it all comes from you anyway, so that we can bow down in humble surrender to who you are, what you have done, and what you mean to us, especially in this Advent season. Be with us, strengthen us, help us to live for you. Amen.