A couple hours before my talk on faith at Fan Into Flame, you would have found me confessing my unfaithfulness before God... tried and convicted by the very words I was about to say to an audience of a hundred or so college students.
This year's Fan Into Flame was facilitated by staff and almost entirely run by students. It was my fourth and final Fan into Flame. In the course of those years I had gone from an obstinate Protestant constantly challenging Catholic beliefs to a humbled brother in Christ. While I still retain my childhood beliefs as an Evangelical Christian, I love my Catholic brothers and sisters and they treasure me; we have way more in common than we do in differences. Through patience and active listening for understanding on both sides, we have come to appreciate those perspectives that are different and have learned how to collaborate with one another in love and unity.
Here are my talk notes below, including photographs and little blurbs about the retreat as a whole.
TALK NOTES So let's all visualize for a moment that there's this, neatly wrapped - maybe not so neatly wrapped - gift, being extended towards you. Maybe it's red. Maybe it's green... maybe it's brown.
But as you're looking at it, you notice that there are breathing holes at the top.
Some of have already thrown off the wrapping paper and have totally embraced this gift like, "Oh my gosh it's a puppy, I love it!"
Some of you are taking it and scrutinizing it, but don't want to unwrap it yet... maybe trying to take a little peak at what's inside...
Some of you have already received this gift before, and you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah I know what this is, I get this all the time."
Maybe some of us are still looking at this gift and are like, "Gee, Dan. I dunno if I wanna open this. There's a whole lot going on here that I still can't wrap my mind around." ...and that's alright! The last thing we want to do is pressure you into anything, because God doesn't do that.
But even so, all of us have a gift that's being extended towards us. All we have to do is receive. Some of you are looking at me like, "Wait, what? I don't see any gift."
Adam and Laura were our emcees. They did an exceptional job guiding us through the ins and outs of the entire weekend.
The gift is the Holy Spirit, there's no surprises here.
The gift is not the gift of tongues, or of prophecy - those are gifts and we can receive them tonight - but they come from someone.
Tonight we're going to have the opportunity to pray with others and be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The word baptize means to "immerse." I imagine it's like being completely enveloped in a pool of water.
But the baptism is not for the purpose of receiving the gifts of the Spirit. Let's get baptized to receive the gift that is the Spirit. The spirit of God... dwelling in our hearts. And we get to be immersed in him. That's the gift! The spirit of God in us. Emmanuel, God with us - this has been God's purpose all along!
And God actually wants you to have this gift.
Wait let's think about this for a moment - the gift is the Holy Spirit, and God wants us to have this gift. So the Holy Spirit is the spirit of God, right. So... the spirit of God... think about your own spirit, it's like that thing inside you that is part of your inmost being and that makes you who you are... it's the the very nature, the energy of God - THAT. Dwelling inside of us?
God wants us to have his spirit? He wants to give himself to us? Can you imagine giving your spirit to someone? How much more intimate can you get?
It's because God loves you! It's not a "good job," *pat on the head,* "see you next week" kind of love. It's a love that says I am enthralled with you, and I want to live life more fully WITH you! I have always been there but you have these walls up that keep me at bay... but I won't destroy them because I respect your choices. I just want to be with you... because I love you. I see you pain and I want to heal it. I see your joy and I want dance with you! I just want to be with you... because I love you.
God wants to give you spirit because he's crazy about you. That might be the most important thing I'll say this entire talk.
Spencer (middle) about to give his talk on "Jesus is Lord." This talk set the atmosphere for the rest of the weekend and helped students' begin opening their heart to a God who loved them dearly.
Don't let this gift just sit under the tree. Even those of us who've already opened this gift... let's not put it back on the shelf. I know I've done that many times. This gift changes everything about our lives because the gift itself - the Holy Spirit - is now alive in us. This faith - it's not enough just to hear and not be changed. God doesn't want to just tell us the truth and make us deal with it. He wants us to be a part of it. He's waiting for us to act in it.
Meeko Natural getting us excited about charismatic worship and how we can be fully open with God and freely express how we feel about his love.
So how do we receive this gift? We receive it by faith.
Faith. That's five letters but a big word.
Ephesians 2:9 - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith..."
Hebrews 11:1 - "Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.
Hope, in the biblical sense of the word, is a trust in, a reliance on.
John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
So what does it mean to really believe... to have faith? So... let us take a look at a chair. *put chair on stage*
Do you guys think that this chair could support my weight?
"...Y-y-yeah. I mean, yeah I guess. I think that chair would support my weight.... but I like standing on my own two feet, y'know. I'm good. Y'know what that chair that's just not for me."
It's like saying, "God I believe you exist and died for me and all... but I don't want to let that all change me, y'know... I'm fine just being me, doing my thing."
That's not faith. This is faith... "Because I believe in this chair, I will sit down in it."
*plop* "I believe in this chair."
I don't understand all the physics and mechanical whatnots as to how this thing supports me, but I don't need to know all that to trust that it does. It just... does. I believe in this chair like I believe in the air in my lungs.
You don't have to fully understand to believe.
You don't need to know every little detail about theology in order to be saved. Do you believe that Jesus is Lord of your life? Will you put your weight on that statement? Will you live your life by that statement?
Faith and transformational change goes hand in hand.
And you don't have to "feel it" to believe either.
You don't have to conjure up faith for a specific moment. It's not like - "Alright here we go, *breathes heavily, rolls up sleeves, and sits down* WOOOOO I got faith!"
About a year ago, a bunch of us were out rock climbing at the Gunks in New York. I had found a way to climb up without any rope, and when I was coming down on another side I found myself in a sticky situation. I was on the ledge and had to jump to another ledge a couple feet below and away from me. The ledge to land on was slanted at an angle where I'd land on it, and then my body weight would push me off and I'd fall down and crack my skull or something.
But Spencer had been climbing up and he's on the other ledge and says, "It's okay Dan, I got you."
In between the ledges there's just a straight drop. I look at Spencer's big, burly arms. "I mean, he's pretty strong, but... I dunno."
I did not go - "alright I'm just gonna channel my inner faith right now... Oh yeah, totally feeling it" *prances onto imaginary ledge*
NO WAY! I was terrified! I did not feel like taking the step.
So I'm like, *whimpering noise as I grab a hold of imaginary Spencer's hand* Still gotta jump! "Nyyeeeah!" *hop onto ledge, start leaning/falling back* Then I start to go backwards but Spencer pulls me up and I find myself in his arms and I'm like, "Oh Spencer! I love you so much!"
That's kinda what it's like for us when we choose to believe in and trust in God. It can be terrifying to us and we might not feel like it, but God has us every step of the way. Spencer was like, "Dude, you were fine. It was hardly a jump."
So, while there won't be any crazy acrobatics tonight, maybe, there's a level of trust that takes a leap of faith into the arms of God - who WANTS to catch us.
Elisa walking us step by step through what "New Life in the Spirit" looks like as disciples of Christ.
Okay, so that's faith - the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. One image I like to think of that helps me understand faith is a child. A child runs around, "Daddy loves me." He falls over, gets up and keeps running around because "Daddy loves me." He doesn't care what other people think because "Daddy loves me." Even if there's something he doesn't understand, "I don't know, but Daddy loves me." But Dan, what if I don't have enough faith?
Well, Jesus talks about this. All we need is faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain, right?
"Well Dan I haven't been moving any mountains lately so that must mean that my level of faith is even tinier than a mustard seed!
THAT LITERALLY DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF WHAT JESUS WAS SAYING
Don't get caught up worrying about how much faith you have - when you wonder how much faith you have, you're actually presupposing doubt. When you wonder how much faith you have, you're actually entertaining doubt.
Gabe Natural sharing about the importance of repentance and forgiveness.
Focus on who God is, align your will with his, and trust with everything you have that he will move mountains in your life.
Even though I was scared and didn't feel like jumping, I really did believe that Spencer was going to hold me - I willingly let go of what was behind me and jumped into what was ahead.
Tonight, as I said, you'll have the opportunity to be baptized - to be immersed - in the Holy Spirit. And if you do... you will be. Isn't that awesome?! But please, let's not build up ridiculous expectations. When we surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit, things might not happen in the way we expect.
For the disciples in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit, they probably weren't expecting to experience the presence of God in such a powerful way that they were encouraged to and willingly chose to start babbling like a bunch of fools and then go out into the streets when moments before they were afraid of persecution.
Nowadays, sometimes I expect that something magical and dramatically intense is going to happen when the presence of God comes and I forget that God is also a God of peace and patience.
There was a time in Colorado when I believed that God was going to heal me of something. I believed with every fiber of my being. Over the course of my life, my childhood joy had turned into a heart of stone to protect myself from pain. For years, I had been believing that I was a cold, apathetic monster and that always hurt people I grew close to. But now I knew that it was time for God to heal me and restore my heart to feel again.
And then... God didn't heal me...
... in the way that I was expecting. I was expecting to have an outpour of emotions and for everything in my heart to suddenly be pure.
But I didn't experience any of that, and I felt like I got no response at all. And then I felt deeply hurt as a result.
It's a long story, so I'll cut it short. But I was healed on that day, and God began a journey of even more healing - it was so important to him that he wanted to walk me through each step of who I really am in Christ.
Since that day I am not cold. I am not apathetic. I am not a monster. My heart is tender. I am a deeply passionate person. And I am a child of God.
So, be careful about how specific your expectations are. But we can expect the Holy Spirit to come when we invite him. We just don't know exactly how or when. Having misguiding expectations is one of a bunch of obstacles or walls you might encounter tonight, so I'm going to go over a few to help equip you if you encounter any of these.
Maybe some of you feel like you're not worthy enough.
God sees you differently. He looks at you and deems you worthy of death - death on a cross.
Tonight, ask him, "God, how do you see me? What do you think of me? Who do you say that I am?"
He will answer.
Maybe you have a fear of what other people think.
I struggle with this one all the time, but all I can say is...
"Who cares?" We're all in this together. We're all a bunch of crazies in the middle of Jersey about to have a radical encounter with the creator of the universe *flap arms to each side*
Let's be crazy together.
Fear of surrender...
People jump off of cliffs into water so that they can experience freedom.
"Agh Dan but what if I'm doubting?Three things:
God can actually give you faith and take away your fears. So ask him to do that if you want to enter into this.
Stop focusing too much on whether or not you have enough faith.
Even if you have doubt, you can still take a step. God won't let you down.
Having unforgiveness is actually a wound in your heart.
Forgiving is healing and freeing for you.
God wants you to forgive yourself. He's already forgiven you.
Hurts and wounds.
When you draw near to the Holy Spirit, you might become painfully aware of past experiences or "wounds" in your life.
Imagine your childlike-self getting pushed down to the ground, and you scrape your arm. Your mother comes rushing over and she asks you to give her your arm, but you pull it away and caress it yourself.
That's kind of what it's like. The Holy Spirit's heart breaks for you when he sees your pain - pain that you might not even see yourself anymore - and he's going to ask you if you can give it to him so that he can heal you.
So don't be afraid to extend your arm :)
Throughout the course of your life you've been hurt and wounded - these things can run so deep that there could even be areas you don't even know you're wounded in.
These wounds are barring you from freedom in Christ Jesus. These wounds are barring you from loving others, and, maybe even worse, being able to receive love at all.
Maybe your father was an alcoholic because he had depression and alcohol was the way that he coped. Now you're struggling with depression and you don't think you can get out of this...
Maybe your father has a temper, and your grandfather before him had a temper. And now, though you hate the feeling, you grow angry yourself, especially towards those you love?! And you hear your grandmother say, "That's just the way we are... we just have a short fuse in our family."
You can believe that God WILL heal you of this. We know that he can. Let's believe that he will.
Finally, I've leave you with one last example of a very faith-filled person. An angel came to her and said, "Something is going to start growing inside of your womb, and he will be the savior of the world."
*face of shock, then reverence*
"Let it be done to me, according to your word."
Following my talk, Molly Martinez gave a powerful testimony of healing and letting go of lies about who we are.
I really enjoyed leading this eclectic small group throughout the weekend: one Brother from the Community of St. John, a Focus missionary, a fellow member of the SPO Men's House, and an Evangelical Christian from China. Too much wisdom to handle! It was a really special time for all of us when we got to pray for each other and be immersed in the Holy Spirit.
The following morning, Dave Miller exhorted us with practicals to keep the fire burning.
It's been a good 4 years, Camp Tecumseh!