By Stan Lemon
Recently, it dawned on me that I’ve been on staff with Higher Things for ten years. That makes me the second longest tenured staff person in the organization. When I say it out loud it sounds like a really long time. A whole decade!
I’m the technology executive for Higher Things, which is a fancy way of saying I make sure the website runs, your magazine subscription gets recorded somewhere and you can register for the summer conferences. In the technology world nothing lasts ten years. Nothing. Normally by the ten-year mark, any technology actively collecting dust gets called “legacy hardware.” It should be, and likely will be taken to the local Staples or Best Buy to be recycled. Technology changes very fast. In a year’s time, a new cell phone can exceed the capabilities of last year’s top computer. Nothing lasts; everything changes. Yet, here I am.
I first got interested in Higher Things because the organization was all about “cultivating, encouraging and promoting a distinctively Lutheran identity.” You may recognize that phrase—it’s right out of the Higher Things mission statement. I was wrapping up college, was recently engaged to my wife, and in a year’s time I planned to go out and conquer the world as a graduated person. I relished being Lutheran. I craved knowing other Lutherans like myself. Higher Things was there, like a gigantic Lutheran magnet drawing young people of all sorts together to be distinctively Lutheran. I wanted to be a part of that.
Ten years later, Higher Things really hasn’t changed much. It’s still cultivating, encouraging and promoting the same thing—a distinctively Lutheran identity. It’s what separates Higher Things from other attempts at youth ministry. So this phrase “distinctively Lutheran identity” sounds great on paper, but what does it actually mean? The Augsburg Confession, the founding confession of the Lutheran church says this:
They (that’s we Lutherans!) teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. (AC IV)
Distinctively Lutheran means teaching Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, FOR YOU. It’s not a works-righteousness religion. It’s not a me-first religion. It’s not an I’m-going-to-do-better religion. It’s a Crucified religion. It’s a cross-centered, Jesus-clinging religion. It’s a faith that rests solely on Jesus Christ and what He did. It’s a faith that takes comfort and joy in His doing when it’s given at the font, the altar and in the words of a lowly sinner whom we call Pastor.
What’s drawn me to ten years of Higher Things conferences in a row is the way in which HT promotes and cultivates being “distinctively Lutheran.” It’s actually really simple when you boil it down: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s this ridiculous notion that God descends to mankind and takes on our flesh. He lives perfectly, suffers perfectly and then dies perfectly. He does all these things in our place, so that we don’t have to. Then He gives that perfectly lived, perfectly suffered and perfectly died life to us to be our own. He gives it to us in the waters of Holy Baptism—our birthright to a distinctively Lutheran identity. He gives it to us when we eat of His supper, which is His last will and testament—a distinctively Lutheran nourishment for body and soul. He gives it to us when we hear with our ears from the Office of the Holy Ministry that we are forgiven—a distinctively Lutheran proclamation. He gives it as a gift to infants, toddlers, teenagers and even adults!
This distinctively Lutheran identity is confessed at your baptism. It’s confessed again as you grow up and partake of the precious Body and Blood of Jesus. It’s confessed when you show up at a Higher Things summer conference and hear Jesus for you. It’s confessed as you grow up in the church, marry in the church and then raise your own children in the church. This distinctively Lutheran identity doesn’t change. Yes, it’s by all standards “legacy hardware.” It’s reused, repeated and recycled. It’s the same sweet truth—that Jesus died FOR YOU. Higher Things, just like your Pastor and your church, doesn’t water down this distinctively Lutheran identity. We don’t alter it. We don’t pretend you need to hear something different. We point you back to Good Friday and to Easter Sunday and teach you to take comfort in the gifts of Jesus.
As I grow older, I find myself inevitably changing. My friends tell me I’m a little more tame—a “2.0 version” they like to say. Some of that may be maturity, but it’s more likely exhaustion from chasing three kids around the house day in and day out. It’s pure gift to me that what I have heard taught at Higher Things conferences is the same thing, that distinctively Lutheran identity that I hear taught at my home congregation. What my Pastor preaches faithfully from the pulpit is not magically transformed into a gimmicky bumper sticker of faith when I show up at Higher Things conference. No, it’s the same—the consistent, singular truth that sinners of all ages need: the forgiveness of sins won for us by the very Son of God!
Stan Lemon is Lucy, Hank and Evelyn’s dad, Sara’s husband and serves as the Technology Executive for Higher Things. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org