Between my own college experience, and the time I now spend with college students, I have had a lot of conversations around the idea of God’s purpose for our lives. It’s a fair question: “What does God want me to do?” Now, I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that most people ask this question with the hope that God has something great in mind for them. No one asks this question hoping to hear God say, “Well, glad you asked, Timmy! I have a life of utter insignificance planned for you in rural Texas!” No. I have no doubt that God has called us all to greatness. Granted, God’s idea of greatness is fundamentally different than our own (see Mark 10: 35-44). However, it is possible to do great things in this world by living into God’s vision of greatness. Take Mother Theresa for example. Or Jesus. Nevertheless, my point is that when we ask God what he wants us to do, I think we are really asking God to give us something great to do. I think we are really asking, “Hey, God, can I matter? Please?”
Now, while I believe it is good and important to ask God what he would have you do in this life, and I think it’s important for people to want to do great things, I don’t think that is all it takes. There is another part of this equation. In order to be great, and to matter, we have to be willing to accept that greatness, at least in God’s terms, is going to require sacrifice—especially of ourselves, which sucks because that’s the hardest kind of sacrifice. So while I imagine God is pleased when we ask him to make us matter, I also imagine him responding to our question of “Can I matter?” with the question of “Do you want to matter?” Naturally, this question confuses us because that is exactly what we just asked for. Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger, and then the person working says “Do you really want a cheeseburger?” Yes. That is why I just asked you to give me one.
Why would God respond to us like this?
Well, my guess is for two reasons: One, because to be great in his kingdom requires a sacrifice of ourselves, which I have already said is the hardest sacrifice for us to make. And, two, because my guess is that when you look back at our lives and consider all of the things we have done, it’s probably hard to imagine that we actually want our choices to affect the lives of other people. Greatness by definition means important and influential. To be great means that your choices and actions have consequences, not just for yourself but for the people around you. The greater you are, the more you affect those around you. Consider the President of the U.S. He wields great power. So much, in fact, that a decision he makes in Washington D.C. directly affects our lives here in Seattle. That’s a pretty big reach.
Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “Yes, I want that. I want to make decisions that affect those around me.” Well, good news, you already have that power. Yup, you heard me. Your decisions affect the people around you already. No one makes decisions in a vacuum. Think about that. Does it make you wonder if some of the choices you have been making lately are the best for you and the people you love? I remember when I went through my partying phase in college and my mom would tell me she wished I wouldn’t drink alcohol like I did. I would just smile and tell her not to worry. Now I consider all of the accidents I have heard about lately involving alcohol, some of which have led to people dying, and I can’t help but wonder how many times something could have gone wrong for me when I was drunk.
One characteristic of our generation that is both very prominent and very annoying to me is the way we both crave significance, and trivialize our decisions. If we want God to eventually put us in positions where our decisions make a significant impact in this world, I suggest we start treating the decisions we make today as though they are just as important. It’s a type of stewardship. Just like managing your money well when you have very little of it will help you develop good habits for when you actually have money, I think making good decisions now, when your impact is limited, will set us up to be greater, Godlier decision makers in the future.
I think that a popular phrase for many people to identify their own faith in association with Christianity to say they are trying to be a “good person.” And this is where I have always had qualms. Besides the man Jesus Himself, who is or was a good person? I wouldn’t even say Jesus is good, I would say He is magnificent, awesome, indescribable, but “good” seems too misrepresented to even associate with our Lord.
I don’t think we should strive to be good people or good Christians; we should strive to follow Jesus and how he called us to be. Because let’s face it: we are all sinners and we have all been very bad. And how do we classify what is good? The terms “good” and “bad” have always, always confused me. I think it is because both words carry with them a certain level of our own human judgment over things, and I think that we have called too many bad things good and too many good things bad to be able to correctly use the words.
Also, when we expect Christians to be good people, they have and always will fall short. People will always disappoint us. When I ask someone if they are a Christian and I ask them to define that, often times I’ve heard people say, “Well I’m just trying to be a good person, you know?”
How sad that we have lowered out eternal walk with Christ to, “Just trying to be a good person.”
I would instead challenge us to be careful with the language we use. Let’s dispel the rumor of the phrase “a good person” when associated with us as Christians. We are broken but faithful. We may not always feel the Lord and be living out what He called us to do, but He is good and He is sticking with us.
C.S. Lewis says, “All right, Christianity will do you good — a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won’t enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called “good” —all that about “leading a decent life” and “being kind” isn’t quite the magnificent and all important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can’t be “good” (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts.”
Kelly Thoma, UMin Intern
Welcome to the Inn 2011-2012.
Saturday, September 24, we got back from our student leadership retreat with 80 student leaders full of energy ready to make our beloved first fall Inn happen last Tuesday night. The first thing at the Inn that everyone saw was a video made by one of our own student leaders this year entitled, “Home.” (See the link above.) It was a beautiful video. And for those coming to the Inn for the first time that night, I bet they enjoyed the video. But for those of us who have made a true home at the Inn every Tuesday night, it was like watching our story be told. The Inn’s theme this quarter is starting off with the topic of I Belong. I think home is a word that summarizes belonging. Whether that be a place you gather with friends or that longing to be in our final destination.
Other student leaders of the Inn, from this year or 10 years ago, watch Adam’s video “Home,” and a lot of those who have graduated and moved on tell me they tear up because they miss this real home they had here at the Inn where they felt like they belonged. So I am excited for a new year at the Inn and a place to provide tons of new students with a place to call home in their future. I am excited to write the October blog to you followers as we work towards real life in this God we follow.
Most importantly for this week is my reminder to you all about Core Groups. I write this not as a plug but because I genuinely want to remind you blog followers that Core Groups are where all the juicy stuff happens. Whether you haven’t signed up for one and are thinking about it, or you are reading this as a college graduate and debating whether or not to become a leader, I request that you do. No, I don’t request, I demand! (Editor’s note: “I demand” = “strongly encourage.”) We are just now going through our fall application process of meeting with people applying for groups and it is going amazingly well, but I don’t want you to be left out on the two best hours of your life every week.
Cheers and talk to you soon!
Kelly Thoma, UMin intern
When I hear people talking about “God’s will,” I still tense up sometimes. I remember being a college student, trying my very best to follow Jesus and constantly seeking to find God’s mysterious and elusive will. You see, to me that phrase was tied to finding the one right path that would lead me to being the person God had created me to be. It meant that God had something great for me… And that it was my job to find it. I felt like the world God had created us to live in was one giant rat maze, and it was my job to find the one path that would lead to the “cheese.” (Cheese, of course, being a symbol of a fulfilled life). For you visual learners, my life looked something like this:
Prayers such as “God, what am I supposed to major in?” or “Where do You want me to live next year?” were commonplace. My hope was to get clear answers from God… “International studies and the dorms, Becky.” Sure, there might be two or three alternatives that were “ok” choices that God could use even though they weren’t the “right” choice, but most decisions I could make boiled down to being “wrong” choices – if they weren’t God’s perfect will, then they weren’t good enough. And if I made one wrong – or even less than perfect – choice, that would then affect each choice I made down the road. How would I get the “right” job if I pick the “wrong” major? I would have to start at the beginning of the maze again! I took Isaiah 30:21 quite literally. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Why was I not hearing that voice? Had I already made a wrong decision that got me off the path?
But as I grew in my faith and talked to mentors in my life, I learned that “seeking God’s will” was actually much more complicated than that and that it was not about making one right choice at each fork in the road. In fact, I began to realize that if I was seeking God in my life and truly making decisions that helped me live into my part of the greater body that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12, I could not make a wrong decision. It was like when I used to cheat at the mazes (you know – the ones on the place mats when you were a kid), working backwards from the end! (If you don’t know, that makes maze-solving a much simpler task).
My new paradigm starts with Christ. Seek God first and then each decision along the way becomes just that – a decision. I read the passage from Isaiah in a new light. I can go left or right and either way, God is with me, encouraging me to stay on his wide path.
Written by Becky
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
You would think that blogs are for brilliant thoughts. Well try this one on for size: It rains a lot in Seattle. For as long as I have lived in the northwest, you might wonder how I have not yet come to this realization. Twenty-three years old now, I think I might be on to something. The rain can be an extremely depressing thing. For what seems like two thirds of the year, we deal with the rain. Any good Portlander or Seattleite makes sure they have plenty of rain gear. We have boots, fleeces, soft shell jackets, umbrellas, rain slickers; the list goes on. We do a lot to protect from the rain. To those reading this, I am guessing you have all experienced what it is like to experience a rain storm without having anything to protect yourself. Your clothes are soaking, your socks are wet and each subsequent step gets a little squeakier. Over time you realize how heavy you are weighed down because of the rain. It is an unpleasant experience.
It is not instinctive to stand in the rain. Our natural reaction is to get out of it as soon as we can. The less we get wet, the better off we are. We run to any source of cover we can to find a sense of shelter. Sooner or later, we have to step back into the rain whether by choice or not. Sometimes we are lucky enough to avoid it, but it is inevitable that we will have to deal with the rain once again. The last thing we want to do it let the rain cover us.
Ever feel like you are just fleeing from the rain in life? I do. In fact, I do it all the time. My guess is you do too. There is a lot of hurt in our worlds that take on the form of “rain.” We don’t want to deal with pain. Particularly, trying to avoid the pain of losing someone you love. We run away pretending that we are going to be okay. We try everything we can to find shelter. We take on more hours at work; we go to the gym more often and even study harder for classes just so we don’t have to deal with the hurt. When those forms of shelter aren’t enough we turn to others to fulfill our need to get out of the rain. Drinking, Sex, partying, you name it. Any form of shelter is good for now. No matter the rain we are experiencing, it is the shelters we are desperately seeking in order to stop the rain. The truth is that shelters don’t stop the rain.
“So what do we do? Should be never step into shelter? That sounds stupid Michael.” I agree that would be foolish. But I urge you to step into a shelter that is sustainable. Step into a shelter that you know can ultimately withstand the fierce and unceasing type of rain. For me, that shelter is found in community of people that can engage the rain with you. I might even challenge you to find that shelter in a relationship with Jesus. How you do that might be for another blog entry, but hear it from someone who has sought out a lot of different types of shelter to deal with hurt: There is comfort and warmth in a shelter built on Jesus and his friends.
My final thought for this blog: As much as the rain hurts, there is something good about the rain. Something life giving and cleansing that makes the rain worth all the trouble. As depressing as it can be, there is something liberating about standing still in the rain. It is a unique feeling to surrender to the storm and lets the rain fall on you. If you can stomach country music you might know the song by Luke Bryan that says, “Rain is a good thing.” It is. Rain produces crop. Rain makes things grow. Likewise, it is the same in your heart. It is the rain that can lead to growth. Healing, time and good shelter are certainly a part of that process. Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday. We cannot control the rain. Sometimes you have to be in the rain to get out of it. So have courage and stand in it.
By Michael W, UMin Intern
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.
This weekend I finally saw the movie The Social Network. I love to watch movies and I see most everything that hits the theaters, but I was particularly intrigued by this movie for the subject matter (it’s very well done, BTW). The migration of the human world toward a virtual existence online has fascinated me in recent years, and also freaked me out a bit. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Okay, more of a hate/hate relationship, but I honestly don’t begrudge anyone their Facebook page use. Before you write me off as an old fogey going off about the “crazy kids these days and their wild boxes with screens,” know that I recognize the fun and appreciate the usefulness that can be found in Facebook. And, as Mark Zuckerberg says in the movie, Facebook is THE way people connect with one another. But, I can’t help but wonder, as relationships move more and more online, are we missing a key element of what relationships are supposed to be about?
I began to wonder what Jesus’ Facebook page would look like. Check out his new profile pic, tagged with Peter and James, all of them having a crazy time cruising in Galilee. EPIC! Okay, a bit facetious, and I’m not saying Jesus wouldn’t have a Facebook page, the book of John could easily serve as his “info” section. But I don’t know if Jesus’ relationships would really fit into a Facebook page. I think the major difference between the relationships that Jesus had with people throughout the gospels and those he might have on a Facebook page is that whenever he engaged with people as individuals—the interaction, the conversation, the relationship—was about them. Whomever he was talking to, Jesus made the relationship about the woman or the man and what Jesus might be able to do for him or her.
That’s my biggest fear with moving more and more of our relationships and interactions online – 99% of the time, whatever we put out there and post is about ourselves, not about the other people that we’re getting to know. Yes, there is certainly something positive in being willing to open up about ourselves and share with all our “friends,” but where do we model Jesus in this new virtual universe? How often are my relationships about the other person first and then about me? And, honestly, this is the question I don’t have the answer to but one I’ll keep pondering and thinking about as life seems to continue to move this direction: where does living out the gospel truly fit online?
Written by Janie S.
In preparation for the fall speaking series at the INN, I’ve started reading a book from Daniel Taylor called The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment. It’s caused me to reflect on reflecting.
It seems that we are all asking questions of identity. Who am I? It’s the question that college students ask and a question that I continue to ask as I anticipate creeping up on the time that is traditional for a mid-life crisis. Taylor says, “Reflectiveness is a character trait deeply rooted in what one essentially is. It helps define one’s fundamental experience of reality. The life of a reflective person is more likely to be interesting, less likely to be serene; more likely to be contemplative, less likely to be active; more likely to be marked by the pursuit of answers, less by finding them. The result is a high potential for creativity, curiosity, and discovery but also for paralyzing ambivalence, alienation, and melancholy.”
Psalm 119 encourages us to mediate on the Lord’s Precepts and the Lord’s exhortation to consider the lilies of the field (Mt. 6:28). This encouragement is an invitation into the tension of the reality we live in. Reflection is a risk/reward endeavor. It leads us into the mystery of questions that can and never will be answered. When we get consumed with getting the right answer, we miss the pursuit of the question. For good reason: the pursuit of answers is difficult because it is filled with tension.
But the Christian faith invites us to consider the tension of seeing opposites: the first being last (Mt. 19:30), the physical and spiritual (Gen. 1), dying to live (Luke 14:27). Part of the journey as people seeking union with Jesus is thoughtfully pursuing these answers, not just getting the answer in a well-packaged sermon. We meditate, reflect, struggle, doubt, question, discuss, wonder and celebrate this pursuit individually and in community. We struggle because we are seeking to reimagine who we are as Children of God and seeking to discover more of the mystery of God. On this journey, we get the sense that God is bigger and more loving than we thought.
So this fall I invite the community around University Ministries to reflect. I challenge you to engage the tension present in your faith and think for yourself as we seek a bigger expereince with the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.