Hey FECDB fam, hope you’re swell.
It’s been a full 2 weeks since the Second Nature Conference and I was pondering whether to try to write something up right after it happened, a week later, etc. I figured now was a good time to do so, now that there’s been a fair amount of time to digest what God did through it. I’m hoping that by doing so it’ll benefit those who weren’t able to make it and remind those who were able to come what I feel God might have for us as a youth group.
For the sake of organization, I’ll number a few things that stuck out to me about the conference and something I think that might apply for us now as we’re going back into the middle of school and such (This is more or less the manuscript from this past Sunday’s sermon … Though I read Acts 2:42-47, Philippians 2:1-10, and Ephesians 3:14-21):
1) Being Together a lot/”Doing Life Together” as Opposed to Independence
I think one of the most obvious things we did a lot at conference was spend time with each other. Whether it was waiting for worship to start, empathizing with Patrick for only getting 6 noodles for dinner (ask him about it), doing corporate worship, getting lost, playing paintball, or attending workshops, we were together. I think the clearest picture of this was after our group time each night, we would travel together to go back to our cabins. It was something that was simple but special in that it was like we were literally “walking together,” kind of a like a metaphor of what we had been doing the whole conference. I guess you could call this “bonding,” though I’m not sold that that’s the best phrase to describe this point but regardless of what we did during the conference, more often than not, we did it together and that was the key thing.
Ricky summed it up in his sharing a couple of weeks ago during English service when he shared what he had learned from the “Individualism” workshop. He shared how “individualism,” this way of doing life on your own, not needing to depend on others is something from Satan. One of Satan’s strategies to deter us from following Christ is to convince us that we’re self-sufficient, self-adequate, not needing help. In other words, Satan wants to trick us into being anti-gospel. Anti-Jesus, who came to seek and save (or “help”) the lost and broken. In summary, we really, really, really can’t do life alone. It never works, and it never has. And I think some of us, maybe all of us at least in some way, were challenged on this biblical push towards “doing life together,” or “community.”
For those who went to conference, remember the sweetness of what that week was. Sure it was fun but it was also something more than that. I think God’s given you an experience of that week, no matter what it was, to share with those who weren’t able to go so that we might all together work towards this idea of community.
For those who weren’t able to go, hear this. You can’t do this life on your own. And if you believe you can, that’s your pride robbing you and lying to you. Join us in working toward what it really means to do life together. I know some of you may wish you were able to come or you’re indifferent to it. But the invitation is to continue to work hard, to fight for this youth group. To fight individualism and the selfishness and ignorance that it is … All so that we might better follow Jesus.
2) Hearing and reading the word often, as a main source of our diets
I don’t know about you guys, but there was a lot of preaching and workshops to sit through during those 3 days. Perhaps why that’s why they call it a “conference” as opposed to a retreat. But ya, there were 4 sermons preached, 5 workshops taught twice, not to mention a lot of scripture and biblical themes during worship. Each of these elements incorporated the theme of “chase,” the idea that we were born to chase God, instead chase anything and everything under the sun, only to find out that in the end it’s not about how well we can chase God but to understand and humbly receive the fact that He’s the one who’s been chasing us the whole time (shown through His Son Jesus and his cross).
In other words, this conference had a lot of content, A LOT of content. And not just any content, but content from the Bible. Do you recognize how much Bible you were hearing, pondering, meditating, and reading during those three days? Even if you didn’t do devotions each of the three days, you were hearing the word read out loud during sermons, you were following along by reading it, you were being challenged to apply it and think about how it relates to your real life, etc. That’s A LOT of Bible. And I want to be clear here … I think that’s why some of you had more than just a “fun” time at conference, but a time of real, genuine spiritual renewal and growth. God The Holy Spirit really loves to glorify and show off the awesomeness of Jesus and the main tool God’s given us for Him to do so is through the Bible. Simply put, when you read the Bible, immerse yourself in the Bible, have others encourage and challenge you from the Bible, and wrestle with friends about what it means, transformation happens. Like it really does.
For those who went, I don’t know where you are with your bible reading. Maybe the conference challenged you to make some kind of new year’s resolution to read more or something. Maybe some of you are reading more and maybe some of you are hitting that wall and feeling disappointed and defeated that you just aren’t good at reading more. Maybe not, maybe you’re doing great. One thing is for certain, it’s not enough for you and I to only hear and read the Bible once or twice a week. It really isn’t. If my sunday sermons are the only Bible you get in 7 days, you’re in trouble spiritually. And that’s even if I bring it when I preach … if that happens lol.
Overall, recognize that you can’t grow in your faith and knowledge and relationship with Christ unless you’re reading THE designed way He’s given us to know about him and walk with him. As you’re hearing this, do you feel anything inside of you say or scream “I need that, I need to hear and dialogue with God more by reading His words”? If not, RECOGNIZE your laziness, your “dead-ness,” to God right now. Like I don’t want to be mean or too stern, but to be honest, if you don’t have anything in you right now that desires to hear about God and you call yourself a follower of Christ, BE ALARMED with where you are spiritually right now. And if you can’t seem to want to care, here’s one practical thing I’d plead for you to do: Pray to God today/tonight for Him to not allow you to be okay with such apathy and indifference. Pray for Him to lovingly challenge that independent heart of yours. Pray for Him to not let you wallow in it. Pray for Him to rescue you from it.
-For those of you who do feel a heavy sense of “ya, I know, I really need to regularly be in the Bible,” what can you do today to create that habit for tomorrow and the rest of the week and the rest of the month and the rest of the year? This stuff takes strategy, and commitment. Godliness doesn’t happen overnight. You will not wake up one day and just be like “I LOVEEEeeee the Bible!!! … It’s like ‘honey on my lips …’ So sweet.” You don’t naturally learn to like it without an intention to want to fight for it. So let’s fight for it. Get some friends around and challenge each other to read a little Bible this week and come back in 7 days and ask how it went. Celebrate the victories and understand there’s grace for when you fail and keep going forward. Find a bible reading plan that is reasonable and at the same time challenging. Ask me or an adult leader how they’ve developed in their discipline of Bible reading.
-ALSO, ask Jon for some other good sermons to hear. You don’t know how much blank space you can be listening to something edifying and challenging while you’re doing your normal tasks. God’s blessed us with social media and that allows for us to have our hands on some really great teachers of the word who will grow your love for the Bible so that it’ll grow your love for the God of the Bible.
3) Meaningful, “real life” conversations in small groups
The last big thing I felt God worked powerfully through was the small group discussions. I don’t know that anyone is new to small groups here, those circles of discussion and prayer we do with a handful of people. Though for some of us, we’ve gotten used to 15-people “small groups.” But in my experience with my small group and upon hearing about yawl’s small groups from the other adult leaders, I felt like what really made this past conference special and transformative in a number of ways was the depth and quality of our conversations. It wasn’t just surface-level murmurings of not getting high enough grades, it was talk about the “why” of the difficulties. It was questions about life, faith, science, questions, doubts. It was conversation about things we’ve experienced or are currently experiencing that are really difficult and painful and having the freedom to share those intimate things with brothers and sisters. It was like we trusted each other enough to be able to talk about “real life” to each other. We weren’t afraid of people judging our weaknesses or questions but we talked about them boldly because we knew point #1, that we can’t do life on our own and we don’t have to pretend that we’re self-sufficient. We talked about real problems, real things, real relationships … all so that we might better do life together in pursuing Jesus.
4) “This is what Church is.”
In our last group together, we went around in a circle and shared what stuck out to us about conference or what God might have been speaking to us. I’ll share what I shared then. I think all that we saw and experienced for those 3 days and 4 nights is really what CHURCH is: a community of brothers and sisters learning what it means to do life together, under the authority of God’s word … so that we might better enjoy and follow Jesus, despite life’s daily struggles. “The struggle is real” indeed. Like freal, I know it is. I’m not past it and neither are your leaders and parents. But this is what church is. We gather here not just to have fun or commiserate how lousy are lives are. We gather to celebrate the hope and life of the gospel of Jesus and we do so intentionally as ONE community, not wanting to pretend we’re someone we’re not or that we’re somewhere we’re not. Doing life alone is a result of the fall. Independence really is from Satan. And it is anti-gospel. It is directly opposed to the gospel. The gospel says that we were so dead in our trespasses and sins, deadened to God, deadened to people, opposed to letting him reign and rule over our lives, trying to make sense out of our lives and chasing things that in the end never satisfy. Thats the bad news. The good news is that despite all of us that, God had a rescue plan … He came to rescue us from ourselves and to give us a new life, a new story, a new narrative, a new identity in the family of God. He didn’t do so because we were good enough. He didn’t do so based on any of our performance. He did so because of who He is. He hates sin absolutely yet Jesus took all the wrath due us so that we might not have to bear any of it. Jesus didn’t sin but he became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. In other words, though we do and will sin often, that’s not who Christians really are anymore. Our identity is not of “sinner” so much as it is “saint” because even now we look not on our own performance and sins, but on Christ’s sinlessness and righteousness which He’s freely gives to be counted for us. The good news is that though we couldn’t care less about God, chasing our own thing, trying to do life without the One who created us, God intervened, got in our face and called us out of darkness to be awakened to the majesty and awesomeness of who He is. And the vehicle God’s given to remind us of this truth is the church, his bride … The one Christ died for. Let’s do church together fam. Let’s do real church.
Love you all,