Monday, December 24, 2012

God with Us - A Word of Encouragemnt on Christmas Eve

Posted by Tim

Merry Christmas from Mulberry Street!  I have been reflecting a lot about Jesus’ birth the last few days in anticipation of tomorrow, and thought I might share some of my thoughts with you. 

In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas gets busy.  For a lot of us, Christmas means card writing, present shopping, cookie baking, charitable giving, party planning, relative visiting, and a whole lot of other things that are very good intentioned and very time consuming.  The birth of Jesus is central to a lot of these activities and is most often our spiritual focus in December.  Christmas Cantatas, Plays, Choral Arrangements, and Sermons fill in the context surrounding Jesus arrival in Bethlehem and the beginning of God’s redemptive plan.  It’s a beautiful story:  God is with us. 

But over the last two days I’ve been a little troubled.  We have been working our way through Advent in our Bible study, each week focusing on a different aspect of the Christmas Story.  But in spite of all the prophecies, and stories of Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels; I was having trouble relating to the child in the manger.  God is with us…but does He know what I’m dealing with?

Sometimes all the busyness of Christmas works as a mask or a temporary relief for and from the struggles that life brings our way.  Come January I feel the void again.  And it’s my fault…I’ve made the truth of Christmas a seasonal thing:  God was with us; He did his job; and then He left again.  He came, He conquered Sin and Death, and returned Home.  Meanwhile, me and my friends can’t get out of our own way…still struggling with petty vices, doubts, and harsh realities. 

But I think I missed something, so let’s take a look at the baby’s life:

His mother endured a scandalous pregnancy, resulting in rumors that would follow Him the rest of His life.

He was born and placed in a trough intended for animals.

He was a refugee as a toddler, escaping slaughter, and growing up in a foreign country.

He was the step-son of a poor carpenter.

He would spend over three years dependent upon the hospitality of others, with no home to call his own, and no family that would claim him. 

He felt hunger in the desert, was deserted in the garden, and forsaken on the cross.

And after His greatest victory, His closest friends still doubted him.

And now He is with us. 

My deepest pains, He has experienced.  My strongest loneliness, he has realized.  My darkest doubts, He has processed…and He’s with me.

This Christmas, I can smile because my prayers have been heard by a Man like me….with me.  For those of you who are hurting and wondering who knows your pain, you have a Savior who has lived in poverty and despair, and who is ready to bear your burdens.  It’s the miracle I found this Christmas.


Grace and Peace



Friday, December 7, 2012

Another Open Letter to Ellen Degeneres

Posted by Jack

Dear Ellen Degeneres,

My name is Jack and I live in Springfield, OH. We have never met, but I have written you before.

Recent events have prompted me to send my greetings once again, in the form of this special Christmas letter (I hope you don't mind, but this being an open letter, I think some people may be listening in.)

Recently, J.C. Penney released a holiday-themed commercial and it included you.

Then, a group called One Million Moms released a statement saying they were offended by the ad. They said J.C. Penney had chosen to offend the "huge majority" of their customers. Then the group called on Christians to "vote with their wallet" by avoiding J.C. Penney "at all costs."

In case you've forgotten it, here is the ad:

If you want to know about someone's values, consider the things they celebrate.

I wanted to know more about the One Million Moms, so I looked up their website. There, I found a list of their proclaimed successes. There was a lot of talk about filth and about silencing certain people or companies. There was talk about removing certain shows from television and changing the words Wrigley uses to sell their gum. And, there was talk of cleaning up the language on certain websites.

I understood some of it. I could see how parents would want to shield their children from some of those things. And I totally respect their right to speak out and boycott and lobby for change.

But this situation with the elf ad was different. See, the "million" moms did not have a problem with the content of the ad. They were not offended by your awkward diner conversation with Santa's helpers. They were not hurt at the mention of merchandise or gifts or sales.

They were offended simply because it was you. The statement they released (and later took down) seemed to indicate that their real problem was J.C. Penney's alignment with you. There was nothing offensive in what you said or did, but they took offense at your presence.

I've never been in such a spot, but I think it would hurt my feelings.

I don't want to speak for them; their public statements have been pretty clear. But I wanted to tell you, Ellen, about the things I value.

I value conversations over diatribes.

I value forgiveness over resentment.

I value relationships that do not keep score, human connections that maintain no record of wrong-doing.

I value reconciliation of differences over restitution for perceived offenses. 

I value personhood.

I value meaningful interactions with actual people, rather than distorted caricatures.

I value the opportunity to turn strangers into friends, to erase hostilities, to revel in the glorious absence of ill intent.

I value speaking truth and I value love.

I value transformation over stagnation.

I value growth over atrophy.

I value maturity over childish things.

Most of all, I value you.

I value you, not because you meet my expectations, or because you align yourself with my moral system, or even because I approve of you.

I value you because you are a sacred thing of beauty, the hand-crafted invention of a Loving Creator. I value your dazzling originality, your stunning, breath-taking uniqueness. I value the Likeness emblazoned on your being, the Brand that reflects your Maker, the secret water-mark that proves your authenticity. I value the Image of God you were born in.

And I think God's Kingdom was designed for you too. For me and for you.

We, cracked vessels full of glory... we, broken creations waiting to be redeemed... we both have been invited.

Now, this Kingdom I talk about is not fully formed yet. Jesus kicked things off, but we are all waiting, longing, eagerly anticipating the day it is fully manifest.

No, we can't live in Heaven yet. But we can rehearse.

So, as my housemates and I do for all our neighbors, I wanted to extend an invitation. Come practice with us.

Why don't you stop by the house for dinner some night? We'd invite the million moms as well, but we don't know where we'd seat them.

We'd love to have you at our table, to eat with you and talk and fellowship. You are welcome here any time. No agenda. Just because you are you. (Please call ahead so you don't show up on a night we're not here, or walk in while we are heating up leftovers in the microwave, or something).

I'll extend the invitation to anyone reading this. We believe in a scandalously inclusive Gospel, a Gospel that changes every one it touches. We didn't have to become lovable before we were loved. We did not have to become perfect before we were accepted. We did not have to transform our own selves before God started His work in us.

And we don't expect any of that from you. Really, we don't expect anything from you. We can't change you, and won't try to. Let's all just learn eat together and see where that leads.

But, seriously, call first.

Peace to you,