I wanted to share some of my notes from the conference Aaron and I went to this week. First of all, we didn’t know if we were even going to go until a couple hours before the plane flight. Elijah started the stomach flu in our house last Thursday, the girls got it over the weekend, then I felt pretty weird all day Tuesday, the day we left, but tried hard to stay in denial. We ended up getting on our flight at 5:30, flying to Chicago and finding our hotel. Neither of us was very hungry, but went to dinner anyways, still in denial. Halfway through dinner Aaron got an "uh oh" look in his face and we hurried back to our room. We were there maybe half an hour or so and he started throwing up. He threw up until 4:30 in the morning. I was so nauseated and just held still as good as I could so I wouldn’t throw up. We thought we would be spending the conference day in our hotel room being sick. But at 7:15 we woke up and decided to give it a go. I’m sure the people at the conference would just love to know that, but we didn’t shake hands or anything. We just stayed huddled in the back of the theater listening. The theater was just gorgeous! This is a link to pictures of the interior. http://www.paramountarts.com/aboutphotos.php
The premise of the conference is that stories and storytelling engage people in a way that a list of facts will never have the power to do. And that as "stewards of the gospel" our job is to tell the greatest story – mans fall, God’s love and plan of redemption through Jesus – in the most engaging and creative ways possible. Donald Miller described it as the difference between noise and music. Noise – traffic, crying kids, clanking objects – can be heard, but doesn’t stick in your head the way a musical tune can. So when someone tries to communicate the gospel as a list of precepts that someone should give mental assent to, you end up with a sterile contract and not a heart covenant.
Ed Young was the first speaker, and probably my least favorite. His talk was kind of gimmicky with a lot of rhyming that just came off cheesy to me. But he did talk about the Bible being a rescue story, and Jesus is the lifesaver that should be thrown to those around us that are drowning. We have to keep our connection to the Father through the rope and use this to pull them into the boat, or the church. He said the church should be a rescue society, but has turned into a yacht club. One thing that he said that did resonate with me is that no one drowns in shallow water. It’s the deep things of life that pull us down and we must be willing to go there with others to be effective.
The next speaker was Dave Gibbons and he was fantastic. He talked about the "Theology of Pain and Discomfort" and how it is much more effective to preach from a platform of pain and not strength or size. He said our ministries should be less concerned with rising numbers (attendance & tithing) and more concerned with DECLINING numbers – less homeless, less hungry, less orphans in our city. He gave a personal testimony of his father being unfaithful to his mother and the deep, deep pain that caused him as a teenager. He said he went years without speaking to his dad, but as a college student he chose to forgive his dad and actually went to him and repented for his own anger and bitterness. As he gave his testimony, the story was powerful, much more powerful than if he said he never had those dark times. He talked on Isaiah 6, the call for someone to go and tell and the response "Lord send me" and how that’s usually used for missions, but the next scriptures talk about how Israel isn’t going to listen and isn’t’ going to be saved. Kind of depressing, but he said the Lord sometimes has to cut us down to just a stump to allow us to grow again. He said that the revelation of your brokenness, and the confession of our sin and repentance unleashes the Holy Spirit.
Chris Seay was next and he was awesome! He was so funny too. My favorite part was when he said if you are the kind of believer that studies the Bible just to have ammunition for debate and to argue with people that "no one likes you. Your mother hopes you won’t even come home for Christmas." LOL It was so funny. He told stories too about his family and had an Aunt that they all called "Aunt Sister" and he had no idea why. He talked a lot about propositions not being able to save you, but a good story will invite a person in and produce inquiry in their heart. He also talked about Jesus’ statement to take on His yoke to find rest. He said that this doesn’t mean a life of ease, but when you find the yoke that fits, you become alive and energized. So many people are exhausted mentally, physically and spiritually because they have an unnatural yoke that they bow to every day. We were made for His yoke. One other note I have written down, not sure how it fits, but he said about creation, "God smiled and the light broke."
John Ortberg spoke for a little while after lunch and was saying that we try to take the Bible and use it to make our dreams come true, but we should instead be endeavoring to make our lives part of God’s dream for humanity. He gave the definition of Shalom – where things are the way they are supposed to be – and that is God’s dream for the world. We also heard him speak during the lunch break and he talked about spiritual development after initial salvation. He said that most people agree that grace is the only way to span the chasm between man and God, but somehow we think that human effort can span the chasm between who we are today and who God wants us to be fully matured in Christ. I thought that was very interesting. He said if grace is what connected you back to God, why wouldn’t grace be what causes you to grow in Him?
Nancy Peach spoke next. She talked about telling the truth of the Gospel as a Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. She said we have to paint the stark reality of God’s absence before we can experience the joy of His presence. Grace isn’t that wonderful if you don’t address the pain of fallen humanity. She also said that the mark of a good fairy tale is "the turn" that it makes just when things look most hopeless. She said that making stories seem more fabulous only drives the point deeper in our understanding, and that stories should awaken our faith in God, not man. She also said something I just loved, that when a story moves you to tears, that is the deepest intuition of the truth.
Stacey Spencer was next and he walked out singing "This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long." He had a lot of soul and how the room shouting and praising at the end of his talk. He was funny too and said how Jesus was such a master storyteller that he would draw you into a story without realizing you were the "bad guy" of it until the end. The Pharisees would be hanging on His words and they want to stone Him because He was wasting them with His story. Movies were called high budget parables, I just loved that! He also said that we have to invite people into the story and end with redemption. He said whatever your particular circumstances are, your story is ALWAYS to ultimately praise the Savior, all the day long.
That was the last speaker I took notes on. I was getting pretty tired and not feeling well. Donald Miller was last, and of course I totally enjoyed it. He is coming to Nashville on November 20th. He said that the principles for a great story are totally applicable to real life. A great story is basically a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. He said that the reason we live meaningless lives usually lies in not wanting something valuable enough. When we waste our lives pursuing material things, we just end up frustrated because they never deliver. And if we aim too low and never pursue anything that requires much conflict, we end up bored. He also gave a funny take on the apostles and said can you imagine Paul giving a testimonial on an infomercial for Jesus? He could say that he once had a highly respected position, material wealth, etc. and became a follower of Jesus and was blind for a few days, lost everything, repeatedly thrown in prison, beaten, etc. And all this can be yours too … He debunked the idea that we have a Jesus-shaped hole in our hearts that we try to fill with worldly pursuits, but if we just fill it with Jesus, we’ll finally be satisfied. He said we won’t be satisfied until we’re in His presence, and to not be discouraged if your longings continue in your walk with Christ. We aren’t supposed to be content until the end of the redemption story, when we are united again with the Lover of our souls.
Wanted to add a PS. When we got back to the hotel that night we turned on the live streaming of church. It was such a sweet service of people testifying to God’s love in their lives. When Bro. Steve started singing "This is my story, this is my song …" Aaron and I just stopped and stared at each other and laughed. That was the first song we heard when we entered the conference, it was sung throughout the day, and it ended the evening via internet. That is so cool to me! I also wanted to add something that meant so much to me the Sunday before last. Bro. Steve said that faith is nothing more than trusting that God is able, and powerful to keep the promises He has made. I thought that was just beautiful because I’ve always thought faith was about me and how much I lacked it. But honestly, it is so comforting to know that my ultimate salvation is not in my hands, but the one that proved His trustworthiness when He sent His Son to die for me. The moment I knew I was supposed to marry Aaron was when he demonstrated to me that I could trust him because he chose what was right over what was comfortable to him. He showed me how unselfish he was, even at 19 years old, and I knew he was trustworthy. And the Lord has proven how unselfish He is by creating and carrying out this amazing rescue story.