Bringing her some Jesus

Each week I have the privilege of teaching several groups of children a story from the Bible, generally a story about Jesus. Not long ago I began a teaching session with a group of preschoolers, and a few of the kids wanted to start with singing. As we began, I noticed one of the girls looked mad and she wasn’t singing along. When we started a second song, she crossed her arms over her chest and began glaring at me. And when I said, “Let’s do one more,” she burst out, “When are you gonna’ bring me some Jesus, Ms. Jen?”

Well, the truth is that I’m not just bringing her Jesus. I’m bringing her the very best picture we have of God—seen (and touched and heard) in the person of Jesus, God the Son. “If you want to know who God is,” says theologian William Placher, “attend to these stories about Jesus Christ,” for Jesus is the “best clue to who God is.”* Daniel Migliore writes that there is no side of God “altogether different from what we know in the story of Jesus who befriended the poor and forgave sinners. God is self-expanding, other-affirming, community-building love.”** (p8 of Witvliet) So Jesus isn’t just giving us a picture of God the Son; Jesus is giving us a picture of the Triune God, the God who is three-in-one, one-in-three, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—fully equal, having one will but distinct in their persons.

So if (since) Jesus presents God to us and he interacts in beautiful, intimate, communal, harmonious ways with the other two persons of the Trinity, then we can know that “divine life consists most fundamentally in interpersonal communion. …God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”

Can we see those communal, harmonious ways of relation among the Father, Son, and Spirit in the Gospel stories? Yes! Let’s just take a super abbreviated gander through the Gospel of Mark and look at a few examples:

  • The Baptism of Jesus—this is how Mark begins! John the Baptist announces that Jesus will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit, and then, at Jesus’ own baptism, the Spirit hovers over him like a dove and the voice of the Father affirms him as his beloved Son—before he’s done any earthly ministry!
  • Jesus’ miracles. Scholar Gerald Hawthorne emphasized the point that Jesus “depended on the Spirit of God.” He wrote, “The Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality.”*** This means that every single time we see Jesus doing something no human would be able to do (cast out demons, heal the sick with a touch or word, feed great crowds to the full with a single lunch, control nature…), he was doing this through intimate communion with the Spirit.
  • Jesus referred to God the Father AS his Father. “So?” You may wonder, but this was NEW! The writers of the Old Testament Scriptures didn’t refer to God as their personal Father. Jesus does! Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you.”

I could give many more examples from Mark alone, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll end with an idea for you:

Pick a Gospel to read through. Every time you encounter the word “God,” read “Father, Son, and Spirit” or “Triune God.” We generally tend to see the word “God” and automatically think of God the Father; see if this exercise affects how you see Jesus and the Spirit and how you view the Trinity.

 

*quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 7

** quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 8

***The Presence and the Power, p. 35

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A Nativity Telling

christmas poster 1 cropped

The Cornerstone children and I sharing the Christmas poster during yesterday’s service

Merry Christmas, everyone! I made a script for this telling a few weeks ago (from Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1) and shared it first at the 2nd Annual Walk Across the Street Christmas Celebration, held at Christ Tabernacle Church, right here in my own neighborhood of Austin in Chicago!!

I’ve told it a couple times since, and I thought I would share it with you. It’s a long one–about 10 minutes–but oh, what a wonderful story. After so many years of silence, God broke in, with one angelic appearance after another, with each one beginning with those very needed words, “DON’T BE AFRAID!!!”

It’s an amazing story. I hope this telling makes it fresh and new for you.

Blessings, everyone.

Jen

Telling the Story to Myself

BT pic, cropped

A Bible Telling session with children: I’ve already told the story a couple times; the kids have acted it out; now we are creating a Way to Remember with pictures so they can tell it, too.

My work as a Bible Teller (telling the narratives of Scripture and helping others to learn them, too) means I carry Bible stories in my heart. There is obviously an outward focus to this as I tell and teach stories, but I’m finding incredible inward blessing as the Holy Spirit uses these stored stories to speak into my life. For example…

The other morning I was nursing a grudge about a situation in my life. It felt good to feed this little monster. After all, hadn’t I given enough to the person in this situation? Shouldn’t I be justified in feeling offended, feeling a little used?

I pushed the grudge off to the side (like putting a pot to the back of the stove to simmer) and listened to my audio devotional as I chopped vegetables for the crock pot. The Scripture was a story: Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue is indignant about this healing and tells the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus rebukes him for this and calls him and others there “hypocrites”!

I was feeling a little smug as I listened—Yeah, Jesus! Preach it!—until I heard the end of the passage: “…all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

Ah! All the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing!

I suddenly remembered the grudge that was still simmering and realized, Jesus is preaching to ME! I’m frustrated by this situation in my life–but I should be rejoicing! God is at work doing some pretty amazing things in this person’s life, and I’m feeling “used” because this work of His is involving me in some uncomfortable, past-my-boundaries ways (just like the synagogue ruler was miffed that Jesus wasn’t staying within the traditional “boundaries” set for the Sabbath). Jesus isn’t following the script I have written for this situation, and this is making me anxious and upset.

And here’s where the Bible Telling—all those stories hidden in my heart—was used. One scene after another played across my mind.

First came the scene from Mark 3 in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Those watching also disapprove of this healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus is angry and “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Yes! My heart was hard toward this person–and toward Jesus and his radical work!

But, right on the heels of this came the phrase from the story of Abraham putting Isaac on the altar: “The Lord will provide.” Ah, some understanding of my frustration: my sense of being “used” was based on my belief that I was the one providing. Not true. The Lord will provide. The Lord is the source, not me. I get stressed and self-focused when I begin to think I am the source. He is the source of all I need—salvation and beyond; therefore, he is the source of anything I offer to others.

Another phrase, this one from the parable of the unforgiving servant: I showed you mercy! Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as well? This reminds me of my true place. In my current situation, it might seem I am the one continually giving, but in reality, we are both at the foot of the cross, both equal recipients of God’s great mercy.

And finally, the image of my little preschool students acting out Psalm 23, tiptoeing through their classroom, pretending to be afraid as they enter the valley of the shadow of death and then whooping and throwing their hands in the air as I proclaim, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Yes, this situation has me feeling over my head, but I don’t need to fear, for you, my Lord, are with me!

All this from stories! They, too, are part of God’s Word–a very large part of God’s Word, and they are powerful and powerfully used by the Spirit!

If you have any questions about Bible Telling, please feel free to message me below! (It will come to my email account.) I love to talk with people about ways they can learn the narratives of Scripture.

Some thoughts on Mark 4:35-41

In Mark chapter 4, Mark recounts a day of Jesus telling stories to a number of people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When evening came, Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side. So, leaving the crowds behind, the disciples and Jesus set out in a boat, and other boats went with them. A great storm blew up, with furious winds and waves so large they began breaking into the boat, threatening to swamp it.

Jesus, meanwhile, was asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat.

If you were reading this passage, which is only a few verses long, you would discover very quickly that all ends well. In fact, most Bibles have a heading for this passage that is something like “Jesus Calms the Storm,” so you know the outcome before you even begin reading.

The disciples, however, did not know the ending. All they knew was that, because of Jesus’ instructions, they were out in the middle of the sea in a terrible storm that was filling their not-so-large boat with water, and they react in the same way as many other biblical characters, whose “hard times” left them uncertain and sorrowful and doubting. Unlike many other biblical characters, though, the disciples’ ordeal did not last very long. (A couple months ago I wrote a post about how waiting and suffering are often compressed in Scriptural accounts; ten seconds of reading, and we’re through months/years/decades of struggle. We have to identify with the characters—we have to take time ourselves—in order to gain a clearer sense of the story.) To identify with the disciples in this story, though, we don’t need to imagine the toll of a long stretch of time; we need to imagine the panic of a perfectly good situation suddenly gone terribly wrong.

As I read this story over and over, what caught my attention was this: the disciples were exactly where they were supposed to be. They’d followed Jesus’ directions; he was there with them; they hadn’t left him behind to follow their own whims. They’d made no bad decision or been foolish or rash. They were right where Jesus wanted and told them to be.

But they still encountered a storm.

A great storm, one with howling winds and waves tall enough to menace above the sides of their boat like monsters and then crash down upon them. A storm strong enough that even the seasoned fishermen among them feared for their lives.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever done exactly what you thought Jesus was telling you to do and then found yourself in the middle of a storm? Did you start to wonder if you’d done something wrong? Misheard his voice? Wandered off on your own path? Failed to do something right?

My brother-in-law recently suggested to me that perhaps Jesus knew the storm was coming and was actually leading the disciples into a test of their faith.

Could be. Could be that he wanted the disciples’ faith in him to stretch to cosmic proportion—beyond physical healings to authority over the sky and sea.

Could also not be. Jesus, self-limited as he was in humanness, might not have known the storm was coming. Perhaps he just went out on the boat with the disciples knowing he needed rest and in full assurance that no matter what happened, God would be right there caring for them.

We don’t know which is the case. All we know is that when the disciples woke Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up and told the wind and the waves to be still. And after the storm stopped–immediately!–he turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And then the disciples were really afraid and they said to each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The boat, the disciples, and Jesus reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee with no ill effects. Not all our storms end this way, with every person accounted for, with no lasting injuries or loss. Some storms take years, even a lifetime, to recover from. Some storms don’t end. Some storms are of our own making, and regret compounds our pain.

But, no matter the circumstances of your particular storm, we can know that God has good for us–“best” for us–in the middle of the tempest. God is not spiteful; God does not have an awful sense of humor; God is not conducting a faith experiment for research purposes; God is not plopping us in the midst of it like numbered lab rats. Rather God, who calls His people the apple of His eye, wants us to find that He has provided an eye in the center of the squall specifically planned for each of us. He has for us the certainty that—even when all evidence points to the contrary—we are seen and known and loved and cared for.

We are much like the disciples. The best, in their opinion, was a trouble-free trip across the sea. For the landlubbers among them, the best was probably their feet touching solid ground on the other side after a smooth crossing.

But God, as we are told, sees things very differently. And in God’s view, our presence in His eye is His absolute best for us.

Hymns and Hydrangeas

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of doing a Bible Telling session with a group of women. I chose for us to work with the story of Bartimaeus (partly because it’s very short), and by the end of the session, the women were telling each other the story. This was supposed to be just a quick example of a Bible Telling followed by a time of my sharing about Greenhouse Movement, but when I asked everyone to share what jumped out at them from hearing the story, they had so many insights the session stretched much longer!

Darlene Krueger hosted the event, and I want to tell you about Hymns and Hydrangeas, the business she and her friend Pam Wyma have started to support missionaries. I am one of their missionaries (which I think is so amazing!). They design and make beautiful fabrics with the words of hymns on them and then make tea towels (which would be suitable for wall hangings!), pillows, and baby blankets from the fabrics. Please check out their wonderful work and consider buying something! Your purchase supports their missionaries.

Go to the “About” page on the Hymns and Hydrangeas site to read about Darlene, Pam, and the three missionaries they support. Go to the “order” page to make a purchase. They also have a Facebook page.

One last thing: I am now sending out a monthly email update. If you would like to receive that, just fill out the form below. Thanks so much!

 

 

a request

(Warning: This is not a normal blog post!) Dear readers, as many of you know, I’m living now on the west side of Chicago, where Dave and I feel God has specifically led our family. Dave is teaching at a high school here that serves under-resourced students, and in early January I went on staff with Greenhouse Movement, a church-planting and partnering organization. I was specifically brought on staff to work with Bible Telling here on the west side of Chicago (I’m SO excited about this! I get to write and teach and connect with people–and all of it’s related to the story of God!).

Greenhouse is a missionary organization, so I am in the very faith-stretching process of finding my team of supporters. I know God already knows who they are, and He’s the one who will prompt them to join the team; my job is simply to share the vision of Greenhouse and the specifics of my ministry with as many people as possible! I decided to put this on my blog because I thought there might be some readers who would want to know more and who might, after talking with me, want to join my team. So if you’re reading this, and you would like to hear more about Greenhouse and what I will be doing, PLEASE email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com

I would love to talk with you!

Thanks!

~Jen~