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Posts tagged “grace

Why does goodness exist?

Why does goodness exist? When was the last time you heard someone ask that question? It’s usually “Why does evil exist?” What does the rarity of the first question indicate about our view of goodness? Do we notice it? 

I was going to write something about God’s goodness, and how we take it for granted. I realized however, that I could not tackle this topic anywhere near as well as A. W. Tozer does in his book The Knowledge of the Holy. So here is a passage from chapter 16:

                “The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and quick of sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.

                That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end in the negation of every moral judgment. If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven.

                The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.

                …Divine goodness, as one of God’s attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal. Since God is immutable He never varies in the intensity of His loving-kindness. He has never been kinder than He now is, nor will He ever be less kind. He is no respecter of persons but makes His sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust. The cause of His goodness is in Himself; the recipients of His goodness are all His beneficiaries without merit and without recompense.

                With this agrees reason, and the moral wisdom that knows itself runs to acknowledge that there can be no merit in human conduct, not even in the purest and the best. Always God’s goodness is the ground of our expectation. Repentance, though necessary is not meritorious but a condition for receiving the gracious gift of pardon which God gives of His goodness. Prayer is not in itself meritorious. It lays God under no obligation nor puts Him in debt to any. He hears prayer because He is good, and for no other reason. Nor is faith meritorious; it is simply confidence in the goodness of God, and the lack of it is not a reflection upon God’s holy character.

                The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us.”

Read that a few times. Now ask yourself, do you feel entitled to God’s goodness? When was the last time you thanked God for being good–to you and the people around you? If it has been a while, then I would guess you are taking God’s goodness for granted. Don’t worry, I do it, too.

Take some time to think about all the good things in your life. If you have trouble recognizing anything, ask a friend—other people tend to see the good in our lives better than we do. Then take some time to think about the reality that it didn’t have to be this way. God does not owe us anything. Even on our best days, we do not impress God. Yet he is good to us, and he bestows blessings upon us every day. If that doesn’t spark a sense of gratitude toward our God, then come talk to me.

 Written by Chris Sherman

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Thoughts on Lent

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. For those who don’t know, Lent is the 40-day time period leading up to Easter Sunday. (In reality, it’s 45 days because Sundays are still supposed to be observed as a Sabbath.)  Interestingly enough, Lent is not a tradition we find in the bible, but it was created by the church to help Christ-followers to prepare for Easter, and remind us Christians of the life and sacrifice of Jesus—specifically his 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert before he began his public ministry. (Read Luke 4:1-13 to get the whole story of that encounter.) Traditionally, Christians would fast daily until sundown, and they would give up all forms of meat–except for fish–on Fridays.

Lent is often perceived as a time of grueling self-sacrifice due to the whole fasting until sundown thing. Today, however, most of us just give up coffee or sweets. Tough life. Occasionally, though, Lent is taken as a more serious opportunity to combat habits like excessive consumption of food or alcohol, an addiction to pornography, or excessive spending of money. Whatever one decides, the goal behind the sacrifice is to prompt a time of prayer whenever you find yourself tempted to indulge in these activities. (e.g. If you normally go get a coffee at 10 am on Mondays, instead of buying a coffee, you spend those 15 minutes praying and reading scripture. Repeat as often as you get coffee.) It’s funny–well, kind of sad actually–but in my experience most people hear this challenge and are immediately intimidated by the idea of going without coffee for that long. Some people are legitimately addicted to coffee, and would be straight-up jerks for 40 days if they gave it up. To all of you who are in this position: by all means, keep drinkin’ the jo. I think Jesus would rather have us be able to love the people around us than try to observe Lent and be hurtful.

HERE’S AN IDEA, though. Lent doesn’t have to just be a somber time of sacrifice. It can also be a time of devoting ourselves to some new or different practice that also reminds us of Jesus. For example, I am a person who connects with God through music. So for lent last year, I decided to pick up learning how to play piano. I did my best to devote at least 30 minutes a day to sitting down and studying some aspect of the piano. Instead of dreading my bible and prayer time because it was a reminder of not being able to have something that I wanted, I looked forward to it because I was finally doing something that I had wanted to do for a while. Maybe for you this means getting into running or learning to crochet. The only suggestion I have is that it be something you can do while praying.

Now, to the people out there who are thinking, “Well, that’s not truly observing Lent because we are supposed to suffer like Jesus did,” I have news for you: WE ARE NOT JESUS. If you really want to be traditional with it, though, go ahead and give something up. I am all for challenging ourselves.

In fact, here is my challenge to you: Think of something you want to pick up over this season of Lent. Plan out when and where you will engage this activity, and try to do it at a time of day when you are most likely to follow through. For most of us, this means not late at night or early in the morning. Give God your best time of the day. He deserves it.

Also, if you are someone who struggles with a more serious problem, like an addiction to pornography, alcohol, or excessive spending, it’s time to start working on it. I encourage you to take Lent as an opportunity to invite God and your community into these areas of your life. Find someone you can talk to about it. Make plans to avoid putting yourself in situations where you often fail, and, most importantly, when you find yourself wanting to engage in these activities, PRAY. Ask God to help you resist giving in. And have grace with yourself. You’re not perfect. Yet.

Finally, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment.

Chris Sherman, UMin Student Leadership Coordinator

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Silent Night

Sitting in a silent, dark room that is lit only by the white lights of a Christmas tree, I am reminded that tonight the waiting is over…

The hoped-for arrival of someone to ransom us from captivity has materialized in Jesus. One of the great gifts Jesus gives us is peace – in the midst of messy relationships, loneliness, chaos, illness, and even death, we can have peace.

This peace on the night Jesus is born comes not from having perfect lives, or really even the hope for a perfect life. It comes from having hope that even in the midst of darkness, there is Someone bigger than the darkness.

How often are we silent and still? If you’re like me, the answer is, “Not often enough.” But the reminder of Psalm 46:10 rings true: “Be still and know that I am God.” In our own stillness, we sense our smallness and we sense God’s vastness. From that perspective, we can see our need — and we can begin to understand the mystery of God’s meeting that need in the birth of Jesus.

Let’s allow ourselves on this night to be still and silent before a huge, almighty, powerful God — who in that power became a helpless baby. Of course, the irony is that true silence requires no song at all. True silence requires turning off the music, the TV, the computer (after you finish reading this blog, of course). Since turning off a racing mind is near impossible, simply bring your thoughts to Jesus, asking him to give you perspective, even on those thoughts.

Lord,
Quiet our hearts, that on this silent night, we might hear Your voice… That we might be given perspective – of who You are and who we are. Wherever we find ourselves this year at Christmas, give us  Your hope and Your peace. We want to rejoice in Your coming, but we know the importance of being still… Of ceasing our striving… Of taking deep breaths… Because we cannot rejoice in Your coming until we are acquainted with our own emptiness and also with Your ability to fill that void. Quiet our hearts, Lord.

Amen

Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant


O Little Town of Bethlehem

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 
for out of you will come a ruler 
   who will shepherd my people Israel. 

–Matthew 2:1-6

It’s easy for me to think of Jesus’ birth as a nice story. Or to get lost in the theology of the Incarnation and all of its implications. But the times when I am most in the Christmas spirit — when I come the closest to “getting it” — are the times when I think about the reality and the messiness of it all.

I love the context scripture is always giving us… Even the pages and pages of genealogies ground me in reality when I read the Bible. Not because I think it’s important to know Salathiel was the father of Zerubbabel, but because remembering these are real stories about real people impresses on me implications for my faith today.

The marker at the Church of the Nativity, which has been built around the location where many believe Jesus was born.

Bethlehem is a real place. Five years ago, I was privileged to visit Israel and spend time in Bethlehem. Honestly, I was not awed by the Church of the Nativity that has a marker of the exact location Jesus is believed to have been born. I was not inspired to touch that place because it had some kind of magical power. In fact, it was the lack of “magic” I felt in walking the streets of Bethlehem that awed me. It was the sheer ordinary nature of the town that moved me when I realized it was the place of Jesus’ birth.

God came to a real place and real people. The song O Little Town of Bethlehem is a reminder to me of that. Knowing that Jesus came in real time and space is just what I need to experience the wonder of this season of waiting.

If I hear the story of Jesus’ birth and don’t stop to think about the real place he came into — the night air, the sounds of the cars rushing by (just seeing if you’re still reading)… the sounds of the sheep nearby, the stars, the clouds, the hay… then I run the risk of turning Jesus’ birth into a nice story. It is that – but it is so much more; it is a life-changing story. When I imagine the real place of Bethlehem and put myself in the streets of that normal town, I am given the gift of the story coming alive, with the hope that it truly would transform my everyday life here in this real town.

Lord,
Thank You for visiting us in flesh and not just in theory. Thank you for entering into our pain instead of observing from afar.
Help us to enter in to Your story, that we might be reminded of Your power that came to us in weakness.
Amen

Becky R, UMin Executive Assistant


Anticipating that Which has Already Come…

ad·vent/ˈadˌvent/

Noun:
  1. The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
  2. The first season of the church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

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


Rain

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