Posts Tagged ‘God’

When it Rains it Floods…and Makes Lightening

 

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Living in Texas has had its ups and downs for me. I’ve had the joy of getting better acquainted with my in-laws, and the honor of being with my mother-in-law in her dying days. I’ve enjoyed spending time outdoors more days out of the year. But I’ve also had the worry of drought, and the terror of lightening striking my house.

Lately we’ve had massive rains and severe flooding near us and my worry and terror leftover from past calamities have crept back up on me.

We were in Houston the other night with flash-flood warnings blaring from smart phones all night. The power at my father-in-law’s house went way down low–I guess you call it a brown-out–but it never went out completely. It was an eery and restless night.

The next morning, interstates and schools were closed all over the metropolis. I was supposed to go to a conference, but I was prevented from making the trip.

We were able to return home safely, and sleep in our own beds the next night. But more rains came that night too. And there were more flash-flood warnings. And there was lightening–violent outbursts of shocking, white light filling the sky, penetrating the darkness of my bedroom.

The lightening that Tuesday night took me back to that night of the lightening striking my house. My breath felt shallow, my heart was in panic mode. I got out of bed–sleep was not even an option at that point–and tried to outsmart the flashes interrupting the darkness by lighting a candle, and I sang and played on my ukulele until the sun showed up Wednesday morning.

The next few days remained edgy for me. The next couple of nights I defied the wet of rains and floods by lighting a fire in my backyard. This was my own little way of trying to take back some measure of control over elements that are actually far beyond my reach.

Saturday came and I needed to pull myself together to prepare a sermon. I had read and re-read the Gospel appointed for Sunday, and had given some thought to my message. But I needed to get to it for real, so I sat down and read all four of the scriptures that were appointed.

[Sidebar: The Lutheran tradition of which I am a part generally uses a 3-year cycle of scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. Each Sunday has four readings appointed; ordinarily these include an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle (or letter), and a New Testament Gospel.]

And I tell you, I know that no cycle of readings can be perfect, but I am so grateful for the tradition of having a lectionary. It helps tremendously to stretch me to read parts of the Bible that I might otherwise overlook. I mean, favorites are favorites for a reason and worth reading and re-reading, so that’s often what I do when I approach scripture on my own.

But Saturday was a shining example of  how my faith, my life, are enhanced by having a lectionary. I would not have happened upon Psalm 29 by chance. But it was appointed for this past Sunday. And the words of that Psalm washed over me with peace and comfort.

Here are some nuggets:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” –Psalm 29:3-4

“The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” –Psalm 29:7

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” –Psalm 29:10-11

These words spoke to me in my uneasiness about the weather. For all of the out-of-control I feel, God is bigger yet than those flashes of flooding and of lightening. And I laugh at myself trying to defy the elements, lighting my candles and fires, for God is even above my vanity, my folly, my fires.

I don’t know exactly what it means that God is above all these things. I shudder when some attribute vengeance to God, suggesting that God sent floods to discipline God’s created people. I don’t perceive God as working that way.

For me comfort comes from knowing that God is steadfast. God is not shaken by even the most aggressive tempests. God’s love is a constant on which I can rely–rain or shine.

I am in awe of the work of brothers and sisters in the faith who have woven together lectionaries. I am thankful for this Psalm that spoke to me in the middle of the rain. And I am relaxing into the peace that comes from knowing that God is enthroned over the floods and lightening.

Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

Oppressed

The question “Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?” came up in one of my favorite 0nline discussion groups. My simple answer is “yes,” but there is much more to say about that…

God is always turning things upside down on us: greatest is least, lose your life to gain it, last will be first, caring about the least of these, and so on.

As far as my brain can understand it, when it comes to power struggles, God is not interested in our human determinations about who “deserves” anything. As soon as we decide to pick favorites, God subverts our arrogant ordering and picks the opposite.

The pecking order is not God’s idea though because God loves all people! But those who seize power are “feeling the love” in some way whereas the last-chosen are not. So God takes the side of those who are being dishonored–even to the point of dishonoring Godself to do it–because their needs for love, acceptance and whatever else are the least met.

One tricky thing about the human pecking order though is that it can change on a whim when someone new seizes power or when those in power decide they want to give or take status. It’s like that one time when all of a suddenly a new Pharaoh came along who didn’t know Joseph, you know? So, who is “on top” in human pecking orders isn’t necessarily static–so God readjusts, because God doesn’t take kindly to any of God’s beloved people being oppressed.

Also, our “place” in human pecking orders can vary from one group to the next. As a pastor’s wife in a small church and trained church worker, I’m a “big fish in a small pond.” But if I were in a very large church next door to a Lutheran college or seminary with lots of students and professors attending, I would be a relatively “small fish in a big pond.” I’m the same me, but my “place” would be different. Okay, lame example, because there’s not oppression involved, but you get the idea about different groups and different pecking orders. But, again, God readjusts and ministers to us at our point of need when we are feeling lowly.

I don’t think any of us are all one thing–either always oppressors or always oppressed. And yet, I think we are all both capable of oppressing in more ways than is comfortable to admit and vulnerable to oppression in some degree or another.

God loves us all the while—all of us, all the time, no matter what.

But God is setting things right—dismantling our human pecking orders, welcoming the outcast, giving hope to the poor, washing feet, and all that. God is subverting our expectations with a prodigal love that won’t quit.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s subversive love is through God’s coming to be one of us in the person of Jesus. Through Jesus, God embodied the most excellent way of love, love so selfless that Jesus didn’t even consider his divinity as something to be exploited, love so complete that Jesus endured suffering and death, love so powerful that Jesus rose victorious over death itself.

And…God wants our partnership—to wash one another’s feet, to flatten the pecking order, to smash the patriarchy (I just love that phrase, so I had to throw that in there), and to proclaim the Good News of God’s love to all people.

God calls us to align ourselves with God’s purposes, with God’s way of love. It is not easy and we can’t do it on our own because on our own those crazy pecking order ideas keep creeping up on us! Rather, the Spirit of God brings us to trust in the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus, and we are transformed by our victorious Lord to spread God’s love to all people.

And so, in Christian freedom, we are called to serve the least of these and in so doing, serve Jesus. We are called to help the poor and oppressed, bring good news to the captives, love children, welcome the outcast and show God’s love in word and deed to everyone everywhere.

We are called to live in such a way that we are Jesus to others, that they will know we belong to Jesus because of our love.

So, yes, God is on the side of the oppressed when we start making sides. But God would rather us not make sides at all. And God would rather that none of God’s created people be either oppressors or oppressed. And God continues to work to draw us all to God’s side—to God’s way of love.

Christian Community Saved My Faith

whatsavedmyfaithI’m joining the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering the prompt: ‘What saved my faith?’

One of the darkest times in my life was before I had my son and I wrestled with God about my infertility. What saved my faith in that time were my faith communities. I wrote more about that in an older post about coping with infertility. Here is an excerpt:

Even when I’m mad at God, I need the support of my faith communities.

It was a big turning point for me before we had our son when I finally asked to be added to the church prayer list for my infertility concerns. I had told one or two people in the church, but most people had no idea. When I asked for prayer it became public. I was nervous at first, but my church family at the time held my prayer need with utmost respect.

When I am struggling in my faith I am particularly glad for corporate worship and liturgy in particular. Even if I can’t pray, the community of faith carries me through their prayers. Churches who do liturgical worship are accused sometimes of “just going through the motions.” I have to tell you though, when infertility plunged me to my lowest point, those “motions” were all I had. Reciting liturgy that I have memorized, that I know by heart allowed me to pray when I would not have otherwise been able to pray.

One thing that helped me also was when my congregation and other supportive faith communities became aware of the pain of infertility. Due to awareness about infertility, my church family prayed for couples who cannot have children on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Before I had my son, fellow members of an online discussion group for Pastor’s Wives made a point to show sensitivity when sharing about baby news.

What saved your faith? Write your own post answering that question and then visit http://www.edcyzewski.com to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide, which is discounted on Amazon this week.

P.S. I got to chat with Ed Cyzewski about A Christian Survival Guide for the Life & Liberty podcast. Listen to our chat here: http://www.davidhousholder.com/a-christian-survival-guide-ed-cyzewski/

Finding God Just Seems Easier Some Places

Surf's Up at Lake Michigan

I got to play & frolic, sing & pray, and sit & think for long stretches of time out at Lake Michigan when I was there on my trip at the end of last month. It made me want to stay and stay and stay…

Here are some of my thoughts about what made it so compelling:

There is something about a great body of water that draws me to it, draws me to God, draws me out of myself. I just look out at that lake and I see such power—something so much bigger and more powerful than I am.

All of my cares—my worries—are eclipsed by the lake’s enormity. I don’t forget them but I see them in a broader context.

I see I am not alone. Because also? I know that the God who created that lake is even bigger—even more powerful—than that lake. And I know that God who is more powerful than the lake is also more powerful than my problems.

To read more, check out my new post over at Life & Liberty: To the Lake and Back Again: Thoughts on Finding God http://www.davidhousholder.com/to-the-lake-and-back-again-thoughts-on-finding-god-0613-jennifer-clark-tinker/

That Time When A Dinosaur Saved Christmas

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Howard the Christmas Dinosaur

An Original Story by Jennifer Clark Tinker and her son

We all know that dinosaurs are extinct, but we’d like to tell you the story about a time, not long ago, when a dinosaur walked this earth…and saved Christmas! 

It all started in a lab where scientists figured out a way to clone dinosaurs. Just to have a little fun, the scientists spliced in the genetic material to allow the dinosaur to talk and experience emotions. The result of this wild experiment was Howard.

Howard could do everything they hoped and then some. The “then some” was that Howard had an insatiable thirst for understanding the world around him and he asked a lot of questions.

Howard’s first Christmas led to even more questions than usual. Everyday he looked out of his habitat and saw the giant Christmas tree in the town square. He had so many questions about Christmas that the scientists could not answer them all.

But as good scientists, they appreciated Howard’s need for inquiry. So they set up a series of interviews with people in the community for Howard to learn more from them about Christmas.

The scientists were very thorough in selecting interviewees. Howard learned all kinds of things about Christmas. A history student told him all about the history of Santa Claus. A local firefighter told him about how to have a safe Christmas. The mayor told Howard about the giant Christmas tree farm where they always get the town Christmas tree from.

But the one interview that finally put the whole thing in perspective for Howard was with a local pastor and his son.

The pastor told Howard the most amazing story about the God and creator of the world—who was even more powerful than the scientists that cloned Howard. Just like the scientists who cloned Howard cared for him, God cared for the people he created.

Just like Howard, the people God created had questions, but they wanted to find their own answers. They did not trust their creator to take care of them and to help them with their questions.

The pastor said, “This led to people arguing over answers, making bad choices, and hurting—even killing—each other in the process.”

“Killing?” Howard asked.

The pastor’s son, Jack, spoke up, “I sometimes watch the 5 o’clock news with my Grandpa and there was this one story about someone coming into a school and shooting and killing a bunch of people!”

“I’m not allowed to watch the 5 o’clock news, and I think I see why,” said Howard.

“I’m not supposed to either,” Jack whispered.

“But what does all this have to do with Christmas?” Howard asked.

The pastor explained how God gets very sad about the kind of tragic answers that you see on the 5 o’clock news, so he decided to do something. He explained that God’s answer was to go down to earth as one of the people.

“He came in the form of a baby named Jesus. The name Jesus means, ‘savior,’ because Jesus came to save the people from their bad choices and arguing over answers,” the pastor said.

“It is the birthday of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas,” the pastor continued. “Some people get into all the gifts and decorations—which are great. I mean, seeing the big tree on the town square all lit up at Christmas is really special. But Christmas itself is about the birth of Jesus.”

Just then a big CRASH came from the center of town. Howard, the scientists, and the pastor and his son all ran to see what happened.

When they got to the town square, they saw that the giant Christmas tree had fallen over. And there was lots of commotion around the tree.

People were confused, sad, and angry about what happened. This beloved icon of their celebration had fallen down and with it their hopes fell as well. Their biggest question was, how would they have a real Christmas without their beloved tree?

Then more questions came.

“Who did this?”

“Why didn’t you use the brand of Christmas tree stand that my cousin suggested?”

“How could you get Douglas Fir this year when we always get Scotch Pine for the town square tree?”

“Isn’t somebody going to do something?!!!”

And then the arguing began as one person after another had their own answers about what should be done. The arguing was so loud that Howard couldn’t hear himself think.

Then suddenly, a voice from the crowd said, “Hey Howard! Can you help us?”

Howard recognized the voice from one of his interviews. It was the mayor who was at the front of the crowd. She asked, “Could you push this Christmas tree back up? You’re the only one strong enough and who can do it quickly.”

Howard did as she asked and in no time the tree was back up. The townspeople cheered!

“Christmas is saved!”

Indeed, it was a relief to have the special tree standing tall once more. But Howard knew there was more to Christmas than just that tree.

Howard realized that since all the townspeople were gathered in one place, it would be a good chance to tell everyone in the town all that he learned from his interviews. And he especially wanted to tell them what he learned about the true meaning of Christmas and the baby Jesus.

When Howard explained the part about people arguing over answers, all the townspeople looked around at each other. They realized how unkind they had been to one another in their panic about the tree falling.

The people were silent as they pondered all they had learned from Howard. Then a faint clapping began, and then the applause grew louder. And the people started to cheer, “Yay for Howard the Christmas Dinosaur!”

And that is how a dinosaur saved Christmas.

THE END


Authors’ Note

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Right before leaving the Lane of Lights, my family and I posed in the warm glow of a lit Christmas Tree.

The story of Howard was inspired by a seemingly out-of-place display on our recent visit to the Christmas Lane of Lights in Ledbetter, Texas. The Lane of Lights is an annual fundraiser and community service of the Ledbetter Volunteer Fire Department.

At the Lane of Lights there was a 1/4 mile walking trail with various light displays. One of them was a lit-up dinosaur. We chuckled to ourselves about them having a “Christmas dinosaur” and we wondered what his story was. But before we could ask anyone, we made up our own story right there on the walking tour.

We knew then that we had to write our story and share it because it is not everyday that you see a Christmas dinosaur!

Rejoice in the Good News

of Jesus Our Savior!

Merry Christmas from the Tinkers