Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Top 12 for Higher Things 12

Daring to be Lutheran and having a blast while doing it. That’s what you’ll hear if you tune into Higher Things Radio. Which, you should by the way. Yes, the summer conferences are excellent. Yes, it’s a great week of worship, word and fun. But unlike the youth conferences I attended growing up, Higher Things doesn’t seek to strengthen and support the Christian faith of our youth by giving them a “mountain top” experience only to send them home where their congregation looks, sounds and acts much differently than what they just experienced. Higher Things works year-round to feed our youth and adults with more of the gifts of Jesus. They have a weekly radio program, they’re on Facebook, YouTube and an outstanding website packed with resources for youth and adults alike. Higher Things is more than a conference. Frankly, for me and my youth group, it’s a way of life. The summer conferences are just a great big bonus.
Quite simply, Higher Things brings youth to know the church, and brings the church to our youth. Higher Things gives them a solid Lutheran identity and brings the Lutheran confession and ethos – with all the richness of the history, doctrine and practice – back to the youth. Higher Things immerses our children in the richness of the Word of God, the confession of our faith and the worship life of the Church. Yes, I know Lutherans don’t always like that word, “immerse,” but it’s the perfect word to describe the kind of baptismal life that is fed, nourished and watered at Higher Things.

In this respect Lutheran youth work is easy. Give them Jesus. Give them Jesus in the hymns and liturgy of the church. They love it. Don’t let the adults in the church growth movement fool you. Our youth treasure the daily offices and hymns, even incense and other rites and ceremonies, especially when they are taught why we do what we do and say what we say in church. Give them Jesus in real, serious study of God’s Word. They don’t need topics watered down and frankly would be insulted if you tried to do that among them. They need to know how Lutherans think about hot-button issues of the day: abortion, homosexual marriage, dating, relationships, sex, other world religions and the like. What does God’s Word say about this? How do I deal with friends at school who challenge my faith? And a host of other questions get answered time and time again. And of course, give them Jesus in the care and love you express in community with one another. In a word, have fun. In three words this is what I’ve learned from Higher Things: worship, word and fun.

I’ve attended three conferences now with our youth here at Redeemer, HB. Each one has unique memories and joys. Each one has been better than the last. And at the end of each week I find myself looking forward to the next year. And guess what? So do the youth. “Pastor, when can we sing that hymn at church; can we have incense; when are we going to have Evening Prayer? Pastor, are we going to Tacoma next year for Higher Things?” And the list goes on. And as long as Higher Things continues to give our youth Jesus Crucified and his gifts – and I know that will be for a long time – we’ll keep coming back.

This year’s plenary sessions on a Christian’s view of death and dying were challenging to listen to, but helpful to shape our understanding in light of the Word of God and the comfort Jesus gives us. Thank you, Pastor Kurt Onken for bringing consolation and even a bit of humor to this topic. The plenary session on the end times by Dr. Steve Mueller was also outstanding. So many myths and wacky-wonky teachings are bombarding out kids out there today when it comes to Christ’s return. Thank you for a sober, sound and joyful way for us to hear and understand that it is good news that Jesus is coming again. The breakout sessions likewise covered a wide variety of topics. Next time you see a youth of your church that went to Higher Things, ask them what their favorite breakout session was. Chances are they’ll have a lot to say about it. I know ours did.

So, pastors, you should go to a Higher Things conference next summer and every summer afterwards if you can afford it. In all honesty it’s better than most pastors’ conferences you’ll go to anyway. Plus you get to hang out with your youth and get to know how they think and act. What in the world they do on their phones all day. What things challenge their faith and how to address them better as sheep of your flock. What they believe and confess. How they rejoice in Jesus’ gifts for them and you get to dare them to be Lutheran, while having a blast. Trust me; it’s worth the lack of sleep. You will get to know your kids better and they’ll know more about why you teach them the things you do.

Parents, consider going along as chaperones. I know, the kids don’t always think it’s “cool” to have mom or dad come along. But there’s no better way to build the bonds of family life together than to spend a week of worship, word and fun. Because secretly, your kids are glad you came even though they might never admit it. And even though you’ll be wiped out at the end of the week, you’ll have learned just as much as they have.

And last but not least, youth, if you haven’t gone to a Higher Things conference, bug, pester, harass (in Christian love) and poke your pastor or youth leader until they take you. There are plenty of locations to choose from next summer. And there’s plenty of good resources in the meantime.

At this year’s Higher Things conference, Twelve, I learned that this is more than a number in the Bible, albeit a very important number: Israel, prophets, disciples and the whole church. But 12 is what Jesus does. He does a 12 for his church. He completes us, calls, gathers and enlightens us. He “twelves” us into a holy people for his own possession. You are a member of the 12 tribes – the countless throng in Revelation 7 – because Christ has joined himself to you in your humanity, died your death, taken your sin and rose from the grave for you. So, dare to be Lutheran and have a blast while doing it. And here’s a glimpse of my week at Higher Things, a top twelve for Higher Things 12, in no particular order.

12. The sights, smells and sounds Concordia University Irvine.

11. Hearing things like this: “Pastor, thank you for giving us the Gospel”.

10. Learning from our youth how to dare to be Lutheran.

9. Serving at HT 12 as preacher at Vespers and presenter for two breakaway sessions.

8. The butter bandits…you know who you are and that was some good ole fashion prankster action.

7. Stay Lutheran, my friends.

6. Rain in July in Southern California…love it.

5. Listening to Lutheran youth sing hymns as I fall asleep.

4. Compline breaking out all over the resident halls.

3.  Lutheran youth of all ages (let the reader understand!) receiving Jesus’ gifts in the historic liturgy, and enjoying every sight, sound and smell of the daily offices and Divine Services.

2. The communion of saints, a true foretaste of heaven.

1. “Learning about Jesus for 2 hours really makes me hungry” – quote by one Redeemer youth.

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