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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Retreat!

Day 61.

As I reflect on my 62 day journey, I'm blown away.

I'm blown away by God's faithfulness, His mercy, His ABUNDANT love, and His perfect grace. I'm amazed at how far I've come even though I didn't spend as much time with Him as I would've liked, but I will say I have spent more time with Him than I ever have in my life. This creates a level of certainty that the more I dwell in the heart of God, the more I will experience this indescribable joy. I'm absolutely grateful to Him for the absolute sufficiency of the Cross, in that His perfection, not mine, is what allows me to enter into the greatest relationship of my life. The thing is, I've finally begun to grasp the relational aspect of faith beyond what the head knows it should look like into what the heart understands it to feel like.

Over the weekend, I spoke at a retreat for a small church plant's college ministry. It was a group of about 10 awesome young men and women. I learned of the retreat a week and a half prior to its actual happening and had already planned a vacation/visit to Chicago for a friend's wedding and some time with old friends. My entire time in Chicago was spent with people for 8 days straight, all of it was enjoyable, but it meant that it left me no time to prepare for the 4 sermons I had to give two days after my return.

I am a 99% extrovert which means I can generally spend an entire week with people without getting drained, but two weeks is tough for me. If anyone has ever given a sermon or speech before, you know that it takes about an hour to two for every 10 minutes of talk. If you don't spend at least that much time, you end up spending too much time speaking nonsense and using too many words to make one point (much like this blog post). This left me exactly two days to prepare 4 sermons and if I worked two full days of 12 hours straight, I would be ready. So, in my determined state, I worked and worked and worked. I had finished my first sermon on my way to Chicago on the plane, but needed to work out the details and sharpen the points. Doing that made me spend 5 hours of day one. I was now five hours behind on sermon preparations.

I finished up in the next two days all four sermon outlines, but I can't say they were completely coherent to me, nor did I have enough illustrations to paint a more clear picture of the points I had extracted through the Scriptures. It felt like I was studying for finals in college again, you know, the brain drain that occurs when you just cram way too much thinking into a short period of time that your head feels like jello. After I finished, I felt inadequate, yet confident that God would go with me because everything in my life indicated to me that my greatest pleasure in life was knowing Jesus.

So off I went.

Before this retreat, there was another retreat I prepared for where between 2-300 kids came from 4 churches. The one thing I remember from that experience was that it was awesome, but we did not pray nearly as much as I think we needed to. I don't know how blessed the kids were nor do I know how much God was with me in my preaching. I'm not saying that God didn't use what I prepared and spoke on, but there was a clear difference between this retreat and the last one. One of the greatest differences were the willingness and volunteerism of many people. 10 students had 6 people who were willing to come with me and either lead worship, lead workshops, or just help out in any way. From what I know, they found themselves blessed being there as well, but the workshops were a huge hit amongst the kids and the worship band literally rocked our socks off. Thanks to those of you who came out with a willingness to help and serve, it only confirmed God's moving!

During this retreat, what I realized was the power was not in my efforts, but in the presence of God. The knowledge that God was with me in my preaching was evident in several ways: 1. the sermon points and illustrations fleshed themselves out to really make an impact on the the way the participants viewed themselves and God, 2. People were moved to repentance and tears in a way that only the Holy Spirit could've brought about, and 3. my preaching seemed to be better than my own ability to speak (still far from where I need to be, but I've only given about 50 or so sermons in my life!).

The thing is, nothing really matters unless if the glory of God goes with us, that is, His presence. There is something that occurs when we live out a life of relationship in Christ that can give power to our words and encouragement to those who hear them. Many times, I find that people are defensive to the Gospel, but as I engage more with Christ, I find that their defenses are melting simply because the presence of God is in my words. I cannot save anyone, only the love of Christ can, and it is in my own love relationship with God that His love extends to others - this is the overflow that I've heard of all my life!

As these 62 days are coming to an end, I am grateful to everyone who has prayed for me, sent me an encouraging word, and have bought me lunch! I can't wait to go to day 63 and beyond.

If there is any encouragement in what I have shared throughout the past 62 days, please recognize that 62 days ago, I hated God (although I would never admit it). I rejected Him at every pass and it was only by His grace through His constant nudging of me that I have returned to Him. I truly believe that if you pray, God, who foreknows your prayers before you even say them works to give you answers that are greater than you could ever imagine. If anything, please know that all I have experienced comes out of my own prayer life and my life in the Word of God (with the grand help of Tim Keller to give me thoughts to dig deep into!).

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