Reflections on LIFE 2019 Conference
Thanks, Word of Life family for all the prayers, fasting, and support for our youth!
We put so much of ourselves into one week of the year that it is weird for it to be over.
There is almost a post-Life conference shock. We are still processing through everything that we saw and heard, adjusting to living in our contexts again, and, personally, I feel like I have to adjust back to doing normal pastoral things again. No more double-checking logistics and communicating airline regulations! Yay!
As all that is happening, there are some key points that are getting thought through right now:
Our group opened up and grew as a family in Christ. We opened up about the pain of injustices in the world. We opened up and shared how Jesus was at work in us. We opened up and shared even what some would say are trivial facts about ourselves. But the sum of all this was greater than the parts. Through all Christ was doing through the week to build our relationships, we grew as a family in Christ.
Tied to this, it seems like Jesus made our students (even leaders) braver. Brave to say what they are feeling, thinking, and sensing. Brave to let people into their world, to speak up, and speak out. Brave to rest in the promises and truth of Jesus and not the labels of the world.
Lastly, Life conference made it obvious that we have not lost a generation. I never thought we had. God is too faithful. I read the articles and hear the noise of all the negative views of the next generation. There is a difference however, between seeing the grimly spun statistics and experiencing God at work. The people hitting the panic button haven’t seen what we just saw. There were more than 4000 students worshiping Jesus with everything they’ve got. There were 34 first-time confessions of faith, 108 rededications to Christ. There were more than 300 students who heard a call to vocational ministry, whether missionary or pastoral. The more than 5,400 people in attendance gave over $200,000 (between cash gifts and online giving) for an orphanage ministry, called Silver Lining, in Myanmar.
Let that sink in. Let the reality of what Jesus is doing in and through teenagers sink in deep enough so that it is louder, more convincing, and truer than the latest complaint about them in media.
So, let’s have the youth do it! Sorry, I am not saying the youth should do manual labor, all the dirty jobs, or valet park cars on Sunday. Let’s have the youth do the work of the ministry! Let’s let them loose to teach English to Bhutanese refugees, lead community outreaches, guide prayer times, preach and teach, disciple others, help with agencies that are working to end human trafficking, and do all this for King Jesus, the advancement of the Gospel, and the growth of the Kingdom.
Will you still support them in this by sharing your time, your wisdom, and your encouragement? Will you still support them by humbly stepping aside, handing over the keys, and then watch to see what Jesus does?
A Year-long Journey through the Psalms.
I (Pastor Nick) made one resolution for 2019. I resolved to read the book of Psalms every month.
All 150 chapters each month for the whole year, so basically five chapters of Psalms a day. I am happy to say January and February were a success.
But why am I doing it?
The obvious reason is to be in the Scriptures every day with a goal. However, if you spend enough time with me you will know that I think that checking the required boxes and hitting a measurable and attainable goal in following Jesus is more like the starter in an engine or the feather sticks that can help get the campfire going.
At some point, the Spirit moves to change our desires and thinking so that following Jesus becomes natural, logical, and enjoyable. Then the engine runs and the logs in the campfire burn. Though, it is not natural, logical, and enjoyable because you are hitting goals. Rather, it is natural, logical, and enjoyable because we experience and recognize His presence to greater degrees and want more if it. Sure, you’ll hit all the required boxes, but you’ll do it without even thinking about it or being motivated by the empty, unchecked boxes.
A different reason is to grow in knowledge of the Psalms. For a guy like me that loves learning, this reason fills that bucket. It is a big book of the Bible. There is a lot in there. There are countless ways that the Psalms connect with other passages in both the Old and New Testament. It is almost as if all verses lead to Psalms and vice versa.
It is also a notoriously difficult book of the Bible from multiple different disciplines. Is it difficult to translate? Yep. Trying to translate 10th century BC Hebrew poetry, with all its metaphors, unique vocabulary, innuendos, syntax, and mechanics, into 21st century English is a chore. Is it difficult to interpret? Yep. Beside the losses in translation, there are layers of meaning and fulfillment while also being a piece of art. Growing in my knowledge with the Psalms should help ease these difficulties to an extent.
The deeper reasons why I want to do this are more in line with the Spirit being at work in my life.
One side of that coin is that I want to have the Spirit work in me so that I appropriate the Psalms into my life. I am not saying that I want to apply the Psalms to situations in my life and come up with a to-do list. My reason here is different. I want the Psalms to become my Psalms. I want the realities discussed in the Psalms to become my reality. I want the worldview in the Psalms to become my worldview. I want the truth found in the Psalms to become my truth. I want the Psalms to trigger in my mind as I go about life to help me define life. I want the language of the Psalms to fill my vocabulary in both prayer and even simple conversations.
As an example, take a look at Acts 4:23-26. After Peter and John were released from the Council that had told them not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name, they went to their friends and reported what had happened. Then that group of believers prayed for boldness. In their prayer they quote Psalm 2:1-2. They had appropriated the truth in that passage and it filled their vocabulary. They saw for themselves how people will gather together against the God the Father and Jesus, the Anointed One.
The other side of that coin is to have the Spirit work in me so the Psalms appropriate me. I want the Psalms as the Word of God to go beyond me. I want to see how the Psalms go beyond me, but take me into its words and put me in my place. The Psalms talk about grander realities than I can sense with my bodily senses. The Psalms talk about greater experiences of God than I have ever had. It will give greater meaning to everything it touches. The Psalms will make you feel small but still connect you to it.
As an example, take a look at Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:14-36, specifically verses 25-36. Peter quotes Psalm 16 and 110 and shows how, though David wrote them, those Psalms are talking about Christ. Then Peter shows how the Psalms connect himself and his listeners to the overarching narrative of redemption history displayed in those verses. The Psalms appropriated them. It did a good job too. Here is the next verse.
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Then about 3000 people were baptized.
If this language of appropriation is a bit odd, stay tuned; I will be fleshing it out over the next few months. Overall, I want the Spirit to work through the Psalms.
There is also a bonus reason I am fulfilling my resolution of reading the Psalms every month. I realized it after I made the resolution to read the Psalms every month. That bonus reason is hearing the Spirit nudging me to keep going and fulfill my vow. GULP. Apparently, the Almighty likes where He is taking me with this. He brings up verses like...
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
So why am I sharing this with you?
I want to help your treks through Scripture, your personal meditation, and encourage your interaction with the Spirit as you read. Maybe some of my reasons and the ideas behind them will resonate with you and give some clarity to movements of the Spirit in you.
I also want to challenge you a bit with this. Not in a confrontational way, though it may do that, but more in a physical training way. I want to challenge you with more weight. I want to challenge you to go deeper and further.
So taking the truth of Psalm 1 and keeping with the topics discussed, I want to give you fuel for your meditation and delight in the Word with this post. For that, the best I can give you is questions. Not answers. Not pragmatic practices of application. But simple questions that can help as you and the Spirit explore the Scripture and your own heart.
Do I believe the passage I just read is still living and active today? Is it still sharp? What do I believe in my heart that goes against the truth of this passage? What do I believe in my heart that goes with this passage? As a child of God, how does this passage express the history or the circumstance of His children? These questions will hopefully help you see where you are in appropriating the Scriptures into your life.
How does this passage go beyond me? And where does it place me in its grandeur? How does this passage refine me and my mind/internal life? These questions will help you see where the Scripture is appropriating you into God’s reality, His work, and His history with humanity.
Where else is this passage referenced? Where else does this passage connect? Cross-references are some of the most fruitful exploratory tools in reading Scripture. Don’t miss them!
There are a lot of themes that run throughout Scripture. One theme that does not find its way into many conversations but has been coming up again and again for me as I read Scripture is Exile and the Return from Exile. (Also check out the Bible Project’s Series on Exile. It is crazy good.)
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