Though, at first blush, you’ll think you have

by Dave Schmelzer

So much of the Blue Ocean experience is unspoken, is a vibe. But here’s a summary phrase we’ve tried out recently that’s encouraged many of us:

Blue Ocean is about “making an experience of God’s goodness accessible to everyone.”

What do you think about that? On the one hand, it doesn’t sound especially revolutionary. You’d think that many churches could happily embrace that motto. But a little more reflection makes this more interesting. And it turns out to be an endeavor that requires an ever-deepening experience of God’s Holy Spirit to pull off.

So let’s start with the verb: “making.” Blue Ocean has an endeavor! A thing it’s trying to do, a mission. I, for one, like feeling like I’m part of a team that’s going someplace!

And what is it making? “An experience of God’s goodness.” There’s a surprising amount in these few words! So at first blush Blue Ocean isn’t claiming to offer something like “a witness to God’s Truth” to the world. That might be a good thing, but it’s not what this is saying. This is making the bold claim of offering an experience. That may be an overly bold claim! Clearly no one can guarantee you or anyone else an experience of anything.

But this experience of God’s goodness is what we’re driving at.

What do you think of that? Is it important to you that you don’t just hold as a truism that God is good, but that day by day throughout your life you experience that goodness?

I suppose this does beg the question of what we mean. Is God’s goodness a powerful abstraction—that God is somehow the definition of goodness, maybe in contrast to our badness?

That may be true, but it’s not what this is saying. This is earthier.

Can I—briefly!—run some theologizing about this by you?

One fun place to start in thinking about what God’s goodness towards us might look like is Psalm 147:10-11.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,   nor his delight in the power of human legs; the LORD delights in those who fear him,   who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Evidently God doesn’t cheer up when he sees how strong and awesome we are at solving our own problems. He cheers up when we “put our hope in his unfailing love!” He’s happy when we believe that he’s actually good, that he actually loves us, and that we can actually trust him in actual things! The colonial theologian and revival-leader Jonathan Edwards put it this way: God’s holiness consists in his delight in himself. God knows that he’s completely good and trustworthy towards us—for him to be holy means that he can’t back down on that point. If he indicated in any way that we might be better off looking elsewhere for a happy life, he’d be lying to us and thereby unholy. God tells us in Exodus 33:18-19[1] that his “glory” is exactly the same as his being good towards us—he gets glory when we’re satisfied customers who go to him with all of our problems.[2]

I wonder if we can call Jeremiah 32:40-41 “the plaque on God’s wall:”

I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them… I will rejoice in doing them good…with all my heart and soul.”

What’s on God’s agenda today? Doing good things for you! And then, after lunch, doing a few more good things for you! That’s what makes him happy—he “rejoices” to do you good![3]

Jeremiah 29:11 famously tells us that God’s been putting some real thought into what his plan for the rest of your life is:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Back to our—pretty good, right?—mission statement.

So our passion is to help you experience this kind of day to day goodness from God. We’ll get back to this—and its connection to the Holy Spirit—shortly. But just to finish up.

“Accessible to everyone.” This might be the most self-explanatory part of the phrase. Churches often aren’t very good at including everyone in this great mission of helping people experience God’s goodness. Being human, we tend to gravitate towards “our sort of people,” which makes churches even more mono-ethnic than the rest of society. And, in the loudest conversation among churches at the moment, the people who most often get excluded from statements like this are LGBTQ friends. We’re not about excluding anyone from the experience of God’s goodness!

It can be challenging to experience God’s goodness throughout our day, every day, for our whole lifetime.

I love all this “God’s goodness” stuff. It cheers me up to think about it. I love the idea that God is plotting each day about how he’s going to do me good and about how he’s going to craft a great life for me. Who wouldn’t love this?

Of course it can be challenging to feel this day in and day out. And, after a few days go by in which I haven’t given this much thought or gotten much encouragement from God along these lines, I can basically ignore it and take all of the burdens of my life on my own shoulders. And those burdens can feel pretty crushing.

Jesus and the New Testament writers have thought about this and have some immediate advice for us. We’re advised to give Jesus our burdens each day.[4]

But the most-common prescription for experiencing God’s goodness each day is continued faith.

And the New Testament offers a booster for this high faith: an ongoing experience of God’s Holy Spirit.

There are hundreds of New Testament encouragements towards faith. The centurian in the gospels gets praised for his faith as the thing which gets him what he wants. Peter is told he could have walked on water with faith. The bleeding woman who touches Jesus in the crowd and is healed is praised for her faith. Just again and again and again.

Most of us want this kind of faith! Most of us dream of a church in which there’s lots and lots of this faith—if only to encourage us! But it can feel hard to maintain.

That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. And that will be the subject of another post.

[1] Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”

[2] Psalm 116 is amazing on this point. “What shall I return to the Lord/ for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation/ and call on the name of the Lord.” How can I pay God back for bailing me out when I really needed it? The next time I’m in trouble, I promise to go to him to bail me out again!

[3] James 1:17 works this point. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” God won’t be good in a way you’ll like today, but then tomorrow be a little sketchy.

[4] 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” And Matthew 11:28-30: ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”