We took our youth group to Gatlinburg last weekend to attend Winterfest. It is a large Christian youth conference, and every year, it is such an experience. Last year the theme was Shipwrecked (you can read about that trip here) with the centering verse being John 16:33. This year, we looked at John 17, and Jesus claiming His hour had finally come, and what that meant.
A lot of times when I’m writing a blog post or an article, the hardest part to write is the ending. Words will be flowing as I pour my ideas out, then when I try to wrap everything up, I get stuck. Good speakers know that two of the most important parts of a speech are the opening lines and the closing lines. The first is intended to grab the attention of the audience; the last is to drive your point home. Words that will stick with your audience and make them think and remember.
Making people remember His words was not a problem Jesus had.
The first night’s speaker, David Skidmore, made the kids (and us) think about the future. They talked about how God and His Word are greater than anything else, no matter what is on the other side of the equation. They were reminded in John 17:20, Jesus prayed for them. And that just as He sent His first century disciples out into the world, He has also sent us. And now they have a choice to make. They can decide whether to follow the pattern of the early disciples and spread the news of Christ, or to sit on it.
The next day, Brad Tate told hard truths. Truths that angered some and convicted others. He challenged them to ask, “How do you know what is truth?” [Hint: John 17:19 – We are sanctified by God’s truth. The Word is Truth. Jesus is Truth.]
Phil Brookman stressed the need for unity without uniformity. (My words not his.) He reminded us that we work for unity “so that the world may know.” “The opportunity for unity is opposition.” and “Our differences become our testimony.” He reminded us that 2 of Jesus’s chosen 12 would have been natural enemies, if not for Jesus. Our goal is to work together, through and with our differences, to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ.
Saturday night, Jeff Walling spoke, and forgive me for not remembering as much of it, but it was overshadowed by the Marvelous Message I shared a few days ago. I do remember the saying he built on and drilled in them was, “If you KNOW, it will SHOW, then you will GO, and the kingdom will GROW.” He led a prayer and invited anyone who hadn’t made the decision to give their hearts and lives to Jesus to stand up while we prayed. There were several scattered throughout the room, and as I looked up, I saw 4 our our girls standing together. As the prayer ended, another of the moms and I hurried to hug them all (and others followed). Two of the girls were sobbing and just kept crying as we sang and held them all tight. Mom may have shed a tear or two as well. After we got back to the cabin, Daniel talked to them all and they decided to be baptized right away. So, in the hot tub outside, Daniel baptized the other girls, then Jeremy baptized Audrey. Then we came back in and had a short devotional and played a game where everyone sits in a circle, you take a skein of yarn and throw it to someone else and tell them something you like about them. At the end of an hour or so everyone was joined together holding the spiderweb of yarn, and we were all wrapped up, tied, up tangled up together in love. It was precious hearing the things everyone had to say about each other.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend is always the congregational singing, led by United Voice Worship. It is such blessing to be able to lift my voice in songs of praise with so many other believers. Music is a humongous part of my life, and sharing it this way always thrills my soul.
So over the weekend, we learned that the way to know the Father is through Christ. We learned that Christ’s desire is for us to be united in Him, despite the differences between us. We learned that He has sent us out, just as He did His earliest believers, to bring Him to more people and more people to Him. We learned that we living here and now were included in His prayer, as He said “not only for these, but for all all who will ever believe in me.”
My prayer a few days before the event went something like this: “Father, please watch over and be with us all as we go to learn more about You and Your ways. Help these kids as they spend time in Your presence to fully surrender to You. Let us all grow closer to You and realize the hour has come to decide to fully surrender and follow Your will and commit to Your ways. To give lives in Your service, showing others Your love.” And I’m pretty sure it was answered.
I love watching the kids and how they interact with each other over the weekend, and getting to spend time with them and the other adults that go, talking about God and drawing closer in unity to Him and each other.