When I found out last year that Higher Things was coming to Maryville, Missouri for their LCMS youth conference, I knew I had to go. My youth groups had never gone to a Higher Things conference before, and I knew they would receive indepth teaching of the Gospel, participate in genuine Lutheran worship (only with 800 other people) and enjoy the organized, chaotic fun that Higher Things does so well.
But there was another reason I wanted to go. You see, Maryville is my hometown. My family moved when I was in kindergarten, when my dad took the call to serve Hope Lutheran Church in Maryville as their pastor. I was confirmed in Maryville and graduated from Maryville. Although I did not go to Northwest Missouri State, I was familiar with the campus. My high school Christmas concerts were in the Ron Houston Center, which served as the Higher Things chapel. I had attended basketball camps and a concert in same the Bearcat Arena where plenary sessions were held. So going to NWMSU for this summer’s Higher Things conference was thrilling, because everything I had known was transformed for the service of the Gospel.
The theme for the conference was “Twelve.” More than just a number, “Twelve” is the symbolic, Scriptural number for God’s Holy Church. There are the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, and symbolic numbers in Revelation. Pastors Tim Pauls of Boise, Idaho, and Jeff Grams of Scottsbluff, Nebraska did a fantastic job teaching the large group sessions. Both pastors showed, by focusing on the Lutheran understanding of the end times and the book of Revelation, how popular Protestant teachings can bring great fear and guilt, and how Lutheran teaching gives comfort based on Christ alone. Sectionals offered many different topics that people could go to, ranging from Facebook, tv shows, movies, parts of Scripture and issues like depression or Islam. Thank you to all who attended my sectional on the Passover Roots of the Lord’s Supper.
The worship, as you would expect, was excellent. In a smoking hot Ron Houston Center, pastors conducted Lutheran worship using services and hymns from Lutheran Service Book. I thought each sermon was fitting and Christ centered. I was especially impressed at Rev. Bruce Keseman’s statement that God “twelves” you, making you into a member of His Holy Church on account of Christ Jesus. Who knew that “twelve” could be a verb? And seeing approximately 800 Lutheran youth and chaperones singing their hearts out on Lutheran hymns and liturgy was also moving.
One service stood out for me. On July 4 by Mozingo Lake, after the fireworks had ended, pastors led an acapella compline service. This was meaningful for me for two reasons. First, there I had many memories there. I had a summer job at Mozingo Lake years ago, and once I ran a mower out of gas on the very hills we sat on. Second, but more important, halfway through the service, I noticed that several of the motorboats that had been loudly sailing on the lake had stopped their engines, yet their lights were still on. It dawned on me that they were hearing us! From then on, I determined to enunciate every syllable and sing as loudly as I could. I wondered if any of my former classmates were on the lake listening. I hoped that Holy Spirit might work through that Word and lead them to faith in Christ, too.
Last but not least, there was the fun! Higher Things knows how to have a good time: ultimate frisbee, pickup soccer games, an iron chef contest using bacon, an illusionist who passed sharp blades through people, but left them unharmed, bouncy-house-laser tag and jousting (that did not leave everyone unharmed, such as Rev. Jonathan Fisk’s nose), games, excellent performances at the talent show, and some original movies created by Lutheran youth groups. I loved the video parody of Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc. fame, and Rev. Jonathan Fisk, of Higher Things and Worldview Everlasting fame. Judging by how he looked when he saw it, he thought it was hilarious, too.
Servant events and projects were also a part of the conference. Volunteers could help pick up Mozingo Park on July 5. The youth also collected project books for Bethesda Lutheran Home. Nobody else might have realized this, but Maryville has a Bethesda home, and the residents of the Bethesda are faithful members of my home church, Hope Lutheran in Maryville. I was so thankful that Higher Things youth groups helped these special people, and was humbled that I personally knew many of the residents who would benefit from these project books.
Before we left Nebraska, I thought I’d try to catch up with some old friends while I was back in Maryville. I tried calling some, but other than one family who belonged to my home church, I didn’t run into anybody I knew. Not one person in my class! Not one person I recognized! When I tried to start up conversations with the people of Maryville, no one even remembered my family name. Maryville had moved on. When I had lived in Maryville, I never really felt like I fit in. Perhaps it was that I was the only Lutheran out of 137 in my graduating class. And it was hard to fit in partially because I didn’t have agreement with others in the most important matters: Christ, His Church, and what His Word teaches.
But how different it was at Higher Things! Here are my friends, old and new. Here is my family in Christ. How easy it was to talk to people I didn’t know, on the way to a sectional, or at a meal. How often it happened that I or members of my group could sit down with a total stranger, and after some time, you could joke around as if you were old friends. I think this happened because we all had the same faith, the same grounding, and participated in the same gifts and Word of our Lord Jesus. We were “twelved” together as members of the body of Christ. And that makes all the difference. The members of my youth group are already making plans for next year. I can hardly wait.
Rev. Robert Mayes
“The Trombone Guy”
Immanuel and Zion St. John
Beemer and Wisner, NE
Created: July 17th, 2012