If I had looked up the word, “Advent” as a child, I probably would have expected to see “a type of calendar that counts down to Christmas (AKA gift time!)” … But now, the season that precedes Christmas is more than a type of calendar to me. It is a time of waiting, watching, hoping, and anticipating God coming to earth in human skin.
It’s funny to anticipate something you know is coming because it really has already come. And yet we can’t wait to see it happen again. The cyclical nature of the calendar – the very idea that we celebrate the same holiday and season every ~365.25 days is a gift of grace.
I need the reminder. Anything I’m told once, or learn once, I forget. But if there is something to bring it to mind a few times subsequently, it begins to nestle its way into my brain. In fact, there are a few things in there I do not think I could get out if I wanted to and tried. Unfortunately, one of those things is too many digits of pi. 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939 are woven in there tightly because of a challenge in high school. (At least I am assured of always being able to calculate the circumference of a circle… So there’s that.) Fortunately, also lodged in my mind is the first passage of scripture I ever memorized, Psalm 4. Sometimes when I am trying to recall something completely unrelated – my grocery needs for example – what pops into my brain instead is, “Answer me when I call to You, oh my righteous God.” I don’t know why it’s stored in the same part of the brain as the recipe I need to remember, but it’s there, ready when I need it. Regardless of what it is – useless trivia or scripture, sports statistics or your friends’ favorite colors – most of us only remember something when we are able to put that which we remember to use multiple times, whether in our own minds or socially.
Advent is a gift. It comes around every year and it stays for 4 weeks, reminding us: We are waiting for something. We are incomplete. But fulfillment is coming. Let’s incline our ears to hear and prepare our eyes to see where God already is working in our world, that we might know our need for Jesus to come and understand the gift we were given in His coming.
We’ll be using this space for the next 2 weeks to reflect on Advent – not as a countdown to Christmas, but as a season to celebrate in and of itself… We invite you to read and reflect on what it means to wait for something and anticipate a gift which You already know is coming. How is this annual reminder of the gift God has already given a gift to you?
Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant
We all know “the question,” maybe some of us more than others. We all know the question that all of our relatives ask us, the question that we are just waiting to hear. It is a question that we wish we knew the answer to, and a question that for many of us is so far from being answered. What I am talking about is the question of, “What are you doing after college?” Oh that dreadful question. It is always fun to answer it with a good ol’ fashion “I DON’T KNOW.” All joking aside, this can be a tough thing for many of us, and while I personally don’t have to answer that question being graduated already, I get a similar question of what I am doing after this internship. It can be very discouraging to think about, and can be very scary. We all have this sense that life is starting to get real now. We begin to think 6 months into the future, then a year, and then 2 years and we get overwhelmed. It is easy to get freaked out, because for the most part we are all control freaks. We want to be in complete control of our lives and when it comes to the future we cant be, because none of us knows what comes next.
We need God. This is common knowledge for some of us, but especially when it comes to the future. God is the only one who knows what our future looks like. He has us in the palm of his hands and all he asks of us is to trust Him. Trust can be a difficult thing for many of us, including myself, because it means that we don’t have control anymore. I can’t fully trust God and still have control over my life. But what brings me comfort and even joy is knowing that God is FAITHFUL. Because God is faithful, He can’t be anything else. God is the perfect God, so when he says He is something that is what He is, now and forever faithful. It brings me comfort because I remember my junior year of college when I had negative $5 in my bank account, and God was faithful in providing a job. I remember last year when I didn’t know what I was doing after college and God provided an internship in Seattle. I remember when I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college, and God provided Linfield. Throughout my life the question isn’t, “Is God faithful? The question that I ask myself is, “When has God not been faithful?”
So when I look at the future I can find comfort in knowing that God will be faithful, because He cannot be anything else. Though it may not go the way we want it to, he will be faithful. You may not end up being an engineer and instead making the big bucks as a teacher, but God will be faithful in that. When we do this, chances are we will look back and say to ourselves, “Gods plan was so much better than mine.”
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Kevin Petermeyer, UMin Intern
A key theme in my life recently has been this idea of being bold, stepping out and doing something no matter what the result might be. This is a particularly important concept for men. Men have this
tendency to be lazy and passive. We easily see this when a guy likes a girl and does his best to show her so, which usually ends up being a pretty feeble attempt. This shows up even more noticeably in our faith journey. We think because we are reading our Bibles and praying, then we are doing well. But God doesn’t call us to live a cozy life reading our Bibles and going to church where you know everybody. Life may involve these things but a life rooted in Christ is much more risky than that. It requires us to not know what is coming next, and to do things we would never think of doing. It requires us to step out, into the unknown and do things we wouldn’t necessarily want to do. For a lot of us it’s that simple act of being intentional in our conversations with close friends.
The beautiful thing about being bold and stepping out of our comfort zone for Christ is that it frees us. Once we take that action that the Spirit leads us to, we no longer have to worry about the outcome. That’s not ours to decide; that’s up to God — and in God that’s freedom. In being bold and living into who God has called us to be is freedom, and a life worth living.
Freedom lies in being bold
Kevin Petermeyer, UMin Intern
A lot of our anxiety about the future boils down to a lack of trust. We worry because we don’t believe that we are going to be okay. That whole passage where Jesus talks about how the flowers in the field and the birds of the air don’t spend time worrying about how they are going to be taken care of, yet they are taken care of nonetheless, doesn’t seem to resonate with most of us.
I’d be willing to bet, though, that if you and I look back in our lives to moments when we felt like our world was ending and our futures were crumbling to dust, we would realize something interesting: We would realize that God took care of us in those moments.
Example. My junior year at UW I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to do after college. I was going to move to D.C. and get a job working for the Federal Government at a particular agency that I was very interested in. In order to improve my chances of getting hired on in the future, I decided to apply for an internship with that very agency. I went through the application process, was selected as one of 20 people from all of Seattle to interview, had a great interview in which the interviewers told me I was making it through to the final round, and then… I didn’t get the internship.
Wait, what? I thought I was a shoe-in. God, why would you bring me this far, and give me this much hope just to take it away at the last second? I don’t understand. What am I going to do now? I need to get some experience under my belt this summer. Now I am going to end up working at a restaurant serving pizza and I will spend the rest of my life working dead-end jobs until I end up an old, bitter man with hair in all the wrong places and a beer gut. Why, God? WHY?!?!
Fast-forward to the end of that summer and the beginning of my senior year in college. I am fresh off the plane from the West Bank, one of the biggest political hot spots in the world, where I just lived and volunteered for two months as a Deputee with the Inn.
Because of my Deputation experience, I struck up a relationship with a professor back at UW who, let’s just say, had a very successful career with a certain organization that I was trying to get a job with. He liked me enough to write me a letter of recommendation for another summer program the next year where I would be getting just about the most valuable experience someone in my shoes can get. I was going to live and study in Tajikistan, a culture that speaks Persian, the language I studied in college. Now, with Persian, you can’t really get a ton of first-hand experience with it, because the main places it is spoken are Afghanistan—a war-zone, Iran—a country that really really really doesn’t like the U.S., and Tajikistan—a post-Soviet republic that is home to a large faction of the Taliban. While to most people, the simple answer is, “Well then don’t go to those places,” the problem for someone looking to work in international affairs or international development is that field experience is like gold. Especially if you have field experience in a culture that speaks a critical language. Like Persian. Thus, the opportunity to go and study in a culture that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to do so (safely, at least), was a huge opportunity and blessing.
So if my calculations are correct, not getting that internship allowed me the chance to gain a total of four months international living experience, two months of which were spent living in a culture that speaks my second language, the other two months of which were spent in one of the most historically and politically fascinating areas in the world, a relationship with a professor who was very well connected, and personal growth in more ways than I have the time to describe right now.
You tell me: Did my world end when I didn’t get that internship?
It was only after I had returned from the West Bank, and took the time to look back and reflect on how everything transpired that I realized how God had come through for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was not like I just sat back and everything just fell in my lap. I worked hard for the D.C. internship, and I didn’t get it. That was disappointing. But the reality is that while D.C. would have been a fruitful experience, no doubt, I was freed up to participate in a different experience that I now know to have been much more fruitful.
Of course, I had no idea that this was how things were going to go down when I found out I didn’t get the D.C. internship. I couldn’t have known. That is why it is so important to look back from time to time. Looking back, it all makes a lot of sense, and I see how God was at work in my life.
While I wish I could say that because of this experience, and the belief that God had a better plan for me than the one I had for myself has allowed me to trust God in every situation, the truth is I can’t. I still fail to trust God. All the time. It is nice, though, to have this part of my story to look back on and take comfort in when I come to another, seemingly different, situation that requires my trust in God. Remembering this part of my story at least helps me to put a little bit more trust in God each time. Or maybe to spend less time worrying about the future than before. Remembering God’s faithfulness to me has helped me understand God as a God who gives more than he takes.
Try it out. I bet you’ll find more reasons to trust God than you think.
Written by Chris S.
I have been reading through the gospel of John. Today, I came across this passage: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21).
This got me to thinking, “Well I want to love Jesus. I want to love God, and be loved by Him. So, what are these commands that Jesus says I need to obey?” The first two commands of Jesus’ that come to mind are: 1) Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul, mind, and body, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. (I may have paraphrased here, so be sure to look them up for yourself.)
I feel like I understand the second of these commands. I might not always live it out, but I think I have a good idea of how I love myself, and the things I would do for myself. Therefore, I have a good idea of how to love my neighbor on the same level. My struggle is with the first of these commands.
Typically, you love someone or something for a reason. I love my family because they take care of me when I need help. I love my fiancé because she makes me laugh, and pushes me to be a better person. I love a good song because it makes me happy. You follow? Now, why I should love God is not hard for me to understand. I love God because he loves me, and he saved me from eternal separation from him (a.k.a. hell).
What I realized today is that while this is amazing, and blows your mind when you think about someone/something saving you from hell without you ever having done anything for them, it really only means something if you accept the fact that you needed saving in the first place. Without acknowledgement of our need to be saved, Jesus’ death is just further proof that human systems of justice are flawed. Maybe this is why I struggle to understand how to love God with everything I am. Maybe I have not internalized the reality that I needed to be saved. How do I get there?
Written by Chris S., UMin Intern
A recent adventure into Scripture has left me wrestling with God. It’s a story I’ve probably read a hundred times. And yet, somehow the questions I’m asking about this passage never entered my consciousness the first 99 times I read it.
It’s the story about Jesus healing a paralytic, found in Mark 2. Here’s what happens…
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
I’m not gonna lie, after reading this recently, my reaction to Jesus’ initial response to such a bold, desperate act of faith was deep frustration, even anger. How must this paralyzed man have felt? I’m sure there was an element of embarrassment for him as he allowed his friends to fight against all odds to get him to this place before Jesus. And think of how the hope in him, the desperation for healing, must have been rising. As Jesus is about to open His mouth to speak, I’m sure this man was faced with the overwhelming realization that he might actually experience true healing. Only to then hear, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder if the man was processing Jesus’ words something like this:
“Um, excuse me… forgiven? Has He seen the state of my legs? Why does He think I came to Him? Maybe I wasn’t clear… I want to walk. I appreciate the His gesture of forgiving my sins and all. That was sure nice of Him. But that isn’t why I let my friends destroy the roof and interrupt His preaching. All I want are legs that work.”
Only after Jesus senses that the teachers of the law are making an inward fuss about His open display of authority does He say to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home,” thus healing the man of his paralysis.
I guess the question that troubles me is this: If the teachers of the law hadn’t questioned Jesus’ authority, would Jesus have healed the man’s legs at all? Could this story have ended with Jesus walking away from the man after forgiving his sins while leaving his legs paralyzed?
When I think about the places in my own life where I yearn to experience healing, I imagine being set in front of Jesus with my wounds open and bare before Him, hopeful that He’ll choose to heal me once and for all. I can imagine hearing these seemingly irrelevant words from Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.”
“No, Jesus,” I can hear myself saying, “that is NOT what I wanted. Why can’t you just give me what I want? I want to be relieved of my pain, not forgiven of my sins!”
In all honesty, I have not come to a solid conclusion regarding the tension I find in this text. It still doesn’t entirely settle. The one thing that has become clear to me as I read, however, is my own short-sightedness and small-mindedness. I entered this passage wanting from Jesus an immediately gratifying result. Please, Jesus, heal this poor guy’s legs. But, surprise, surprise, Jesus doesn’t conform His ways to meet my expectations. I wonder if this man’s request was too small. The paralyzed man wanted his legs healed, but Jesus wanted the whole person healed. The paralyzed man wanted the freedom to walk, but Jesus wanted to give him freedom from the weight of sin. The paralyzed man wanted healing from the physical sickness he could see, but Jesus wanted to heal him from the spiritual sickness he could not see.
I wonder if the hope I have for my own healing journey is tragically incomplete. Perhaps Jesus wants to give me more than I have found the words to Him ask for. Perhaps He longs to give me true, eternal wholeness over immediacy. The question I find this text asking is, “Will I trust Jesus’ picture of wholeness and healing over my own?”
By Liz O, UMin Intern
Has this ever happened to you? There is something in your life you need to “let go and trust God with.” So you begin to pray, possibly confess, acknowledging that God is ultimately in control and He is good. Then you stand there with your hands open, “releasing it” to the Lord, with all the trust and faith you can muster. You look up to the sky in thankfulness, only too look back down and realize you are still clenching that thing! White knuckles and a death grip!
What do you do? I would probably grunt in frustration. Lord, I thought I gave that to you…why is it still in my hands? I’d then try to pray again, to release it again, and again I would find myself clinging to it. Feeling frustrated, defeated and still burdened.
Back to that question from earlier, “What do you do?” I think that is where my problem begins, with the two-letter word, “do.” How can I give something up to the Lord, how can I trust Him more, what can I do? The answer to that question is probably “Be still and know that I’m God.” AKA, do nothing.
To be honest, doing nothing is hard. I don’t exactly know what that looks like. Perhaps as I focus on the Lord, He will grow and all else shrink. Perhaps my “thing” will eventually become just a crumb that will slip out of the palm of my hand.
I’m still wrestling with all of this. If you were hoping for answers I’ve got none. Just know you are in good company.
Lord teach us. Holy Spirit help us out. We need You. We love you.
It’s in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
By Annika L, UMin Coordinator
Have you ever wanted to live simply?
I know I have. I want to live that every day.
How do you live that life? Well, I’ve got a challenge for you. And I’m pretty sure it’s a piece of cake. And if it’s not, well, come find me and I’ll actually buy you a piece of cake. Seriously, my treat! 🙂
Just follow this 3-step process:
- Do 25 jumping jacks.
- Sit down and take 10 really deep, soothing, and calming breaths.
- Let God reveal one word to you. Yes, one word. Begin thinking about this word. Meditate on it. Live it. Breathe it.
The point of this is simple. It allows you to focus on one word. The amazing thing is, you’ll start to see this word throughout your day. Whether it’s on someone’s shirt, in Scripture, or someone writes it to you in a letter, know that God is speaking to you through it.
I hope this activity gives you as much peace, smiles, and wisdom as it has me!
Written by Amber S.
Our whole lives we are trained filter information. More and more information is thrown at us each day and it would be absolutely impossible to process and dwell on all of it. So we are constantly searching for what is important and throwing out the rest. This is especially true in the school setting. A professor will sit up front and spew hours and hours of information at you. You are forced to try to grab hold of what is most important and naturally forget the rest. Also, when you are reading material, there is way way too much information for you to process it all, so we try to search for what’s most important, scanning, speed-reading or use cliff-notes.
We have all been in school for over twelve years. It has been deeply ingrained in is to process information like this. It is almost subconscious to filter as we listen and read. I would argue that almost every time we listen to someone speak or read something this happens. We search for what are they really trying to say? What is the Cliff Notes version? What’s the point?
All this filtering and overloading of information is hard work. It takes lots of energy to listen closely and process information. It’s no wonder we often dreed school, work, meetings, studying. Before we begin, we are anticipating being overwhelmed.
The understanding of how our education system and culture has trained us to process information is important. I was thinking about it last year and around Christmas time I had a revelation that was so so simple yet oddly profound. Jesus was born in an empty womb. Simple, obvious right? We all know that Jesus didn’t enter a womb with twins already hanging out in it. It may sound dumb, but it really struck me that if Mary had something in her womb, Jesus would never have been born. Jesus found an empty space and he filled it.
I then began to think about my life. We all want to touch, feel, experience Jesus. Maybe more than anything in the world. Yet, all the times I have designed to spend with him are usually full. I look ahead to a meeting and am already (even if it is subconscious) thinking about what am I getting out of it, what will I need to learn, what do I expect to hear. And the second I show up, I turn on the filter, searching for what is most important, or just wait for the meeting to be done so I can check the box on my to do list.
But what if we looked at meetings as wombs? Yes, a womb. An empty block of time carved out in our week where we expect Jesus to show up. What if instead of picturing a hour block of “meeting, listening, filtering” we pictured an empty space in which the Lord will arrive and fill.
Since last Christmas, I have been thinking about this visual image and trying to retrain my mind to come to meetings, Bible studies, conversations, the Bible, and work as an empty space which God can fill, instead of anticipating what I’m going to be doing/learning there and then getting ready to filter the rest.
I tried this with scripture. Instead of reading it to get three main points, I carved out thirty minutes and just read words. I was reading John 18 about Peter denying Christ. It was a story I had read a million times and I fought to just skim the words since I had been taught the “main point” million times before. Yet, when I stop just looking for the main point I noticed something I have never noticed before. Verse 18, which I probably skimmed over it a million times, says: “It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.” Pointless right? Wrong. What this line did was put a picture in my mind. Peter stood by a fire and warmed himself. The night he betrayed Jesus, it was cold and Peter had to warm himself by a fire. We sometimes read these stories thinking these people were different then ourselves, but they get cold and have to stand by a fire to warm themselves. Peter was human. He was just a man as you and I.
That was the point the Lord wanted me to be reminded of that day, that the stories in the Bible are about real people, just like you and me. I didn’t need to hear the main point again, but just to understand in a new way that Peter was just like me.
Wombs. Empty spaces. What would happen if you approach your next Bible study, leadership meeting, conversation, or quit time as an empty space, with your mind stilled and emptied?
Maybe all you would notice at the meeting would be a genuine hello and smile when you arrived. Instead of filtering, you might be able to dwell on the truth you are deeply loved and cared about. Maybe in quiet time you might see a small word you never noticed before or in a conversation hear what the other person wasn’t saying. There is so much we are trained to miss.
Picture our days as series of empty spaces, spaces the Lord desires to fill. Still your mind, and watch as Jesus fills those spaces. You experience what we are all craving. You experience our God.
Written by Annika L.
No answers here, just some thoughts that have been on my mind.
The big thought lately is why in conversation I hear over and over “I should be praying more.” Or “I probably need to be praying more than I am.” I hear it all the time and I find myself saying the same thing to others.
Why do we look at spending time with God as some sort of chore that we need to do? If we don’t look forward to it, or it is a burden for us, what is our motivation behind praying?
Is that the price we pay to be a Christian? Is it a means to an end? What about this relationship do we desire if we are not actually excited about being in relationship? With our friends we spend time with them because we want to; we enjoy being in their presence. We look forward to seeing someone and can’t wait until we are with them.
But somehow in this relationship with God we put it off, and put it off, trying to figure out a time that doesn’t get in the way of all else we must get done.
I want it to be different. I want to crave the time that I spend with my savior like a long lost friend coming into town that I haven’t seen in a year.
I want to sit and just be and be comforted and challenged by the voice of God in my life.
Why would I fill that time with something else when I am looking forward to it so much? This is the God of the universe who loves me like crazy and desperately desires to have me know him more.
If I believe what I say I believe, and love God like I say I do, shouldn’t my language speak, “I can’t wait to get out of here and go spend some time with my creator!”
That’s my God.
Written by Mike M.