Sarah and I just returned from 12 days in DC. The original impetus was to speak at Open Door Presbyterian Church’s youth retreat. But we extended it a bit and celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary in our nations capital. The retreat turned out really well. And I got to reconnect with some old seminary buds and catch up on what God has been doing in our families. It was much needed. Both the retreat and the time away. Here’s a random sampling of things I learned/observed during both the retreat and in random conversations over the 2 weeks:
It’s All God – The theme of the retreat was “Freedom” – how the Gospel enables us to live free. On the second night, I taught a session on the lies that we perpetually buy into, lies that the Devil uses to keep us oppressed and afraid. It was a watershed moment for many. They knew they weren’t free, but they didn’t know why. On the third night, there was a movement of God, students were dancing and running laps around the auditorium, their joy uncontainable. It was a little out of control, but hey, who cares. It was like they tasted freedom for the first time and didn’t know what else to do.
I have taught this stuff before and have gotten varying levels of response. But God reminded me that he’s the one that does the freeing [as opposed to my rhetorical eloquence or lack there of]. My role is just to listen to him and do what he tells me. I had one of those moments where at the last minute, it seemed like God wanted to completely change up my message. I was thinking to myself, “Dude, I’m not prepared for the other message.” And when I kept asking God, he kept saying, “Trust me.” And of course it was the exact right message at the right time.
Fear – I think our generation is crippled with fear. We’re afraid of not making enough money, afraid of failing, afraid what people think of us. It keeps us from seeing God; it keeps us from really living true to how God made us. Even though we have the most education, the most resources, we have so little imagination. Imagination for what an all-powerful God can do and for how our world could be better. Many of us have dreams deep in our spirit and readily admit that they’re from God. But fear keeps us in an imaginary prison. I battle it too. And it’s done me in a few too many times too. But there’s so much potential in our generation and I don’t want us to be known as the greatest lot of underachievers in history.
Hungry – On that note, I see a generation of people who are tired of playing the church game. We’re hungry to see a real Jesus and not just “do” more church. On the third night, I taught on listening to the Holy Spirit [much of it spawned from this retreat]. At the end, we had a time where each individual would ask God the question, “What do you want to say to me right now?” and then write down the first thought that would come to mind. I asked about 25 random people to share out loud with the rest of group [about 300 total] what God told them and everyone had words that were extremely life giving and ultra specific to their lives. It had to be God and we all knew it. There was this sense of, “Wow, God wants to talk to ME?” and “God is REAL!” I didn’t have a lot of fancy things to say nor was I on top of my “game”. But we just led them to connect with God directly and God was so pleased to respond to the ones he loves. They knew that this was better than a fancy powerpoint or an entertaining worship service. They were hungry for the real Jesus; and when they got him, they knew it and weren’t going to let him go.
Lastly, I learned for myself that in the coming years, God may be pushing us to the very limits of our mind, soul and strength. That seems obvious with our work with Ellie Fun Day; but somewhere along the way, I have daydreamed of EFD yielding immediate success and garnering world-wide acclaim. But God’s reminding me that there will be a lot of heart-break and struggle ahead. And it’s supremely important that we hold on to him… that we trust him.
At the end of the retreat, Peter [the youth pastor] had the entire group pray for us. In light of our learning to listen to the Holy Spirit, he led the group to ask God for a word for us and then to share it immediately. A sampling of what they said:
- God wants you to trust him. You don’t need to be afraid, let go of your fear and trust him, He’s with you.
- I see you and Sarah riding a roller coaster and right as it does a sharp turn, you guys fly off of the coaster. But your not afraid; if fact you’re smiling and it likes you’re feeling very free.
- The vision God gave me about you and Sarah was to keep the faith; hold on to faith, even if everything else slips away.
- I was given Psalm 126:5- “Those who sow in tears will reap in songs of joy.”
There was more, but much of it ran along the same themes. I have to admit that I love the words of God’s faithfulness. But I cringe at what might be to come; the things we will need to go through to see it. I know this is God’s way… to achieve what he wants and what he wants in us. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts.
I realize that God’s heart for me today has been the same since the beginning – Will you follow me? Will you trust me? Don’t be afraid my son, I’m with you.
OK Father… let’s go.
A few snaps from DC: