I’ve been a way from blogging because I had to make an emergency trip to Los Angeles and attend the funeral services of a dear friend whom my wife and I knew since our college days at U.C. Berkeley. The news of her passing came soon after my return from Urbana 2015.
I feel that so much has happened in the interim that my memories of Urbana are not as fresh as they once were. But I do want to journal here some pastoral reflections in an effort to catalogue for myself the challenges I heard then and want to practice now in 2016.
As I shared in my last post, I and a pastor friend took five high schoolers (four seniors, one junior) to Urbana 2015. The seniors especially wanted to start the new year with the conference (which ended in a dynamite New Year’s Eve worship service) and commit their next four years of undergraduate studies toward seeking out God’s will and being open to the possibility of missions abroad.
|One professor, one pastor, and five high schoolers at Urbana 2015|
Urbana turned out to be a greater blessing and challenge than I expected. God answered my prayer about sending me a fresh wind and fire to revive my spirit and call to ministry. There were too many sessions to discuss in detail here, but let me offer a personal, pastoral, ethical, and theological note from the messages that I heard. The first two notes (personal and pastoral) here in this post, and the next two notes (ethical and theological) in a follow up post.
Personally, this was the first time hearing Francis Chan speak. Francis’ message was on the faith of the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 and living under the full authority of Jesus. I think the question that unnerved me in a good way was when Francis said: “If God had total control of me, what would my life look like?” I paused. Of course I was a committed Christ follower who began his Christian walk in college when I first surrendered my entire life to the Lord as a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley. Since then, following my Lord lead me to give up medical school, pursue the pastorate, go on short-term missions in Japan for over a year, serve as a college minister for over two decades, as well as become a youth pastor, later associate pastor, and now a professor of New Testament at a seminary. But at that very moment, I asked: If God had total control of me, would it look like the life I’m living right now? I could not help but feel my life should look quite different than it does at this present moment. I felt the call to repentance as I rededicated my life to living fully and wholly for Christ and be obedient to His call.
Related to Francis’ challenge of seeing God’s authority not as something oppressive but the most free and safe place to be was David Platt‘s message on the woman who poured out expensive perfume to annoint Jesus in Matthew 26:6-13. David’s unnerving (again in a good way) challenge was to warn students about activism that is not rooted in a prior commitment to Christ. People burn out in the field because they try to manufacture a heart for missions while missing a heart for Christ. It was a powerful sight to witness 681 college students become disciples of Jesus for the first time, who had come to Urbana to do missions or justice work but realizing they never gave their love or allegiance to Christ first.
For me, pastorally, I cannot tell you how many times I felt so burnt out serving the church in the front lines of congregational ministry, or in the classroom as a theological educator training the next generation of Christian leaders, and my response was to manufacture my own unction and energy to preach, teach, mentor, and pastor. David’s message was a timely reminder to come to the throne of grace, let the Holy Spirit sweep in and take full control, and in response to His flooding my life with His power and presence, worship Him with everything I got. Then, missions and ministry can be a natural overflow of a heart devoted completely to Jesus.
I have more to share, but I’ll save my ethical and theological reflections for the next post.