Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Story’

Want to Simplify this Christmas?

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The pressure is on to find the right gifts for everyone on your list, to prepare the perfect holiday meal, and to make it to every party. With all the obligations of the season though, can anyone remember what Christmas is all about? Something about a baby—Oh no! I forgot to put the Smith family’s new baby on my shopping list!

Oftentimes we lament the consumerism of the season, but we can’t quite seem to back our sleigh ride away from that slippery slope. Over the years I’ve dabbled with various ideas of simplifying my celebrations to focus on what is most important to me: faith, family, and friends.

In my latest post at Life & Liberty Online Magazine, I wrote a sampling of ideas to help you be more deliberate about how you spend your time and money this holiday season. You can read the full text of the article over there, but here is the basic list broken down by three categories, gift-giving, cooking, and celebrations…

 

Put Joy (Back) Into Gift-Giving

  1. Shorten the gift-giving list.
  2. Make gifts using a craft or skill that is truly enjoyable.
  3. Create gift baskets.
  4. Make a music mix.
  5. Give a copy of a favorite book.
  6. Give gift cards/certificates.
  7. Give a membership.
  8. Write an original story or poetry collection and give it as a gift.
  9. Give yourself permission to give the same gift to more than one person on your list.
  10. Give family gifts.

For more on any of these gift-giving ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Cook Up some Holiday Spirit

  1. Consider potluck.
  2. Say “yes” when someone offers to bring something.
  3. Choose simpler preparations for at least some of your dishes.
  4. Stick with what you know.

For more on any of these cooking ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Keep the Merry in Your Merry-Making

  1. Rethink “White Elephant” parties.
  2. Make kits to give away to charities.
  3. Enjoy the arts together.
  4. See the lights!
  5. Serve together.
  6. Make a special treat or meal together.
  7. Reschedule your celebration for a less-rushed time.

For more on any of these celebration ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Pick and choose from this list, take or leave what works for you and helps you have the most joy this holiday season.

Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

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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.

Can an Untimely Death Bring a Shine? Good Friday Reflection

 

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Today is “Good Friday,” the day we as Christians commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus. For a dramatic narration of the story by Nashville’s Charles Esten (aka “Deacon”), click here.

But it is hard for me to get my mind around the idea of an untimely death being a good thing.

I don’t talk about this much, but in the past several years I have lost two twenty-something cousins. The young men, Michael and Phillip, were the only two children of my aunt and uncle. They died about two years apart, both in car accidents.

Growing up these were the cousins that I saw most often. Even after I was married we would spend holidays together whenever possible. I’d say we were pretty close.

I’ve been reflecting lately about how I’ve felt especially dysfunctional in terms of things like housework. I’ve always been a little lax, but there was a time if company was coming I could step up my game and get my house to a shine.

Now though, I just can’t care about that shine anymore.

As I thought about what changed–or rather–when that change occurred, I realized there was a distinct shift when Michael died (he was the first one to die). It hit me hard.

Just nothing was the same anymore without Michael’s shining smile in this world.

And then when Phillip died too, it was grief upon grief, tarnish upon tarnish.

Shiny, happy housekeeping held no meaning for me anymore.

I still don’t have nearly as much company or as many dinners and parties as a once did. But even when I do, I just figure you’re willing to enter my mess then we can really be friends.

And maybe it’s a protection.

To love like I loved (still love) those little cousins of mine…and to lose them both? I mean, that kind of loss makes it hard to want to love that hard again.

It always seemed to have hit me harder than it should have–I mean, I’m just the big cousin. I don’t even know how my aunt and uncle–the parents–get up every morning.

And then there are the questions upon questions…Why them? When then? Why death?

So you see why I have trouble thinking of an untimely death as a good thing?

I don’t accept that God wanted it that way. I can’t embrace a God who wills people dead for some larger purpose. Or at least I won’t if that’s the kind of God our God is.

So then, the untimely death of God’s own son? Am I supposed to accept that? To accept that God gave up what no parent should ever have to give up?

This is where our language about God and our understanding of God’s nature get confusing. See, all the God there is came to us as Jesus. God didn’t send an agent that was somehow apart from Godself. God is Jesus. Jesus is God.

Our very God gave up God’s own shine to be one of us.

The cruel fate of an untimely death was not something that God did to someone else. No, God submitted to human punishment & sentencing. God endured humiliation and death for our sakes.

The untimely death of God is the most baffling of all. But if anything could ever shine despite death, then it would be because God conquered the very death that threatens to overshadow our world.

We know that God did not stay dead. He rose victorious from the grave and conquered death itself.

Death does not get the final word.

And whether we feel shiny, happy, or we’re still grappling with some kind of grief, we know that love wins. God’s love shines through for us always, all the time, no matter what.

Receiving Others as Gifts: Mutuality in Giving & Receiving

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This is the first post in my new series about “Receiving Others as Gifts.” For background to this series, please read the introduction from last week: Introducing a New Series on Receiving Others as Gifts. To see all of my blog posts related to this subject, check out the tag: Others as Gifts.

I love the Kenneth Bailey video on footwashing that I posted back in November. I love everything about that video really. But most especially meaningful to me was how he made the case for how radical footwashing is and then how he lifted out the verse about how we ought to wash one anothers’ feet!

Bailey talked about the power dynamics at play when service is rendered. The idea was that service as we are called to is often from a position of power–the one has something the other needs–the giver is the one with the power.

Bailey rightly points out the danger of using service as a power play.

The way to guard against the power dynamics getting out of hand , then, is to wash one anothers’ feet–for each one to take turns both giving service to and receiving service from one another.

When it comes to receiving others as gifts, I think this idea of mutual giving & receiving is really important. The temptation to always be the one giving is great in our busy world.

We don’t want someone else to be put out. And we certainly don’t want to feel like we owe someone for some service they’ve rendered!

No, we’d rather be the ones doing the giving, doing the serving, doing that thing that puts someone else in our debt. Oh, of course, we don’t expect them to repay us–but that only heightens the sense of indebtedness that the one served may feel.

The most profound act of service we can render is to receive service from another, to lay down our need to be large and in charge and to humble ourselves enough to allow another to be or do for us something that we cannot do or be on our own.

Admitting that we can’t be all things to all people is often scary. To own our limitations and our neediness is not comfortable or automatic. It is a deliberate choice to drop our sense of superiority, to drop our self-centeredness, and to allow someone else to be greater or more central to us than we’d like.

Another feature of that Bailey video mentioned above is he calls attention to the bond that is formed when service is given and received. The two parties are brought into closer relationship by the service given and received.

We can choose to decline the service offered to us–I mean, we may not always need what is offered at exactly the time and place it is being offered. But to decline the service of others is to distance ourselves from those offering it.

We may have our reasons to decline, but it is wise to be aware of the cost. If we continually deny others the opportunity to serve us we may find ourselves in total isolation.

We may end up so far removed from others as to have no meaningful, sustaining community on which to rely when we eventually realize that we need it.

Plus, if we allow ourselves to become isolated by refusing to be served, then we’ll have no one left who needs or relies on us! Our own best service will be useless if we have no one close enough to us to receive what we have to offer.

I’m convinced that we need each other in this life. We need the gifts and service of others and they need ours too. This mutual giving and receiving is part of God’s original intent for us and Jesus affirms it.

May we be blessed by and be a blessing to others through our serving one another.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Kings or Pawns?

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We’re coming up on the celebration of the Epiphany (January 6) in which we mark the spread of the message of Jesus’ birth to the Gentile “wise men” from the East. But the story of the wise men (traditionally referred to as “kings”) is all wrapped up with that nasty Herod.

The story is in Matthew 2 and there is a very, very dark side to it. Herod uses these “kings” as pawns in his attempt to destroy Jesus. When these wise men refuse to play Herod’s game, he puts the entire village of Bethlehem through the worst horror imaginable by slaying all their boy babies.

I had the occasion to preach on this “slaughter of innocents” story last Sunday. My central question was, whose side is God on when a power-hungry ruler gets out of control? I titled the sermon, Bethlehem and the Least of These and it is online now (click the title to read it).

I have been submitting a number of my recent sermons to my friend & publisher, David Housholder, for inclusion at his online magazine called Life & Liberty. These sermons and my other contributions to Hous’s site are some of my best work of the past year. I do hope you will visit Life & Liberty–my online home away from the blog–to see (and hear) my work over there.

Here’s the link to all of my work at Life & Liberty:

http://www.davidhousholder.com/author/jentinker/