Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"All the trees of the field will clap their hands" Isaiah 55:12

Every January, our entire staff takes a few days together to strengthen our relationships with each other and with God, to read, pray and worship together, and to play and have fun.  We have just returned from our staff retreat, and I am so excited to share with you what we are learning and doing.

Our retreat took place at a huge cabin in the Texas hill country, far from the city and surrounded by undulating, cactus-covered hills.  Each morning of the retreat, I rose and crept quietly out of the house to go for a walk.  The crisp winter air sparkled with the shine of the rising sun as I followed meandering trails through scrub forests and across dry stream beds.  This time was sacred to me.  I experienced God's glory in the beauty of his creation.  This creation is lovely and fearsome; that glittering sun illuminates both the red fruit and the sharp spines of the local cacti.

In preparation for our retreat, each staff member read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.  In the book, Peterson describes two arenas of prayer.  One is the quiet and personal prayer many of us are accustomed to.  We close our eyes, bow our heads, and imagine ourselves alone with God.  The other is what Peterson calls "praying with eyes open."  We look around at God's creation and pray aloud together with that creation, embracing the Spirit that permeates the rejuvenating rain shower as well as the hurricane.  As I hiked the trails around our retreat cabin, I prayed with my eyes open.

A nature walk selfie.  I wish this picture could show how cold I was!

The Contemplative Pastor also inspired our staff to embrace poetry.  Pastors, Peterson argues, should revere the power of language and use it with the expert care of a poet.  Poetry, after all, is how the prophets and psalmists of old conveyed God's messages to his people.  Why then have we abandoned this practice?  And if Christ himself is the Word, who are we to use words without careful thought?

Each of our staff members brought a poem to the retreat.  Some of us chose a poem that we found meaningful in our ministry; others wrote their own poems.  I shared T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" (you can find the text here).  This poem reminds me of a deep truth about Jesus: after an encounter with him, no one can walk away unchanged.  The magi of the poem make a hard journey over rough terrain, sometimes regretting leaving their plush homes.  After finding the child and returning to their homeland, one of those wise men reflects: " longer at east here, in the old dispensation, / with an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death."  The change in his life is so drastic that it feels to him like death.

As I celebrate God's creation and reflect on the transformations he has wrought in me, I feel my energy growing.  I can't keep this to myself.  I am so ready for another semester of introducing our students to this Jesus who will not allow them to walk away unchanged.  And we have an exhilarating event right around the corner that will help us do just that: Winter Camp 2015!

Winter Camp is a long weekend retreat for our students.  It's packed full of wise teaching, worship, and time to build deep spiritual friendships.  Our speaker this year is Dr. Iain Provan, an engaging lecturer and eminent scholar of the Old Testament.  Many of our students, as well as most of our staff, have listened to audio recordings of his classes at Regent College and enjoyed learning from him.  We are all excited to welcome him in person to our Winter Camp.  I will tell you more about how it goes in my next update.

As we begin the spring semester, I ask for your prayers.  Please pray that our Winter Camp helps our students learn and grow in Christ.  Pray that we have good weather and that all participants travel safely to the camp.  Please pray also for all of our staff as we continue to work diligently toward the goals God has given us.

Thank you for your prayers and support that allow me to continue doing what God has called me to.  I also want to thank all of you who donated to the #FOCUS140 campaign; we have raised over $29,000, and some donations are still coming in!  This money will allow us to broaden our reach to more students on more campuses and keep making disciples.  Thank you!

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