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A Convicting Conference

April 30, 2014 | Sam Baggenstos

I arrived at Denver International Airport, exhausted and starving. Riding the underground trolley amidst a multitude of strangers, I wondered what would happen if I showed up at the concourse and no one was there. Two nights in the airport, a diet of over-priced bagels and captured pigeons didn’t seem too pleasing. Well at least the bagels.  Shooting pigeons with a bow made out hiking stick, a shoelace, and sharpened pencil would be pretty sweet. However, much to my pleasure (or chagrin…), as I walked out into the airy main concourse, I quickly spotted a group of people sitting awkwardly in a clump around moose head on a stick. Yikes!  I thought.  This is actually happening!  The 2014 training conference had begun.

Five hours later, I rolled into the YMCA Rocky Mountain National Park with the a busload of my fellow comrades.  The first couple of hours consisted of the standard fare for conferences or retreats: bulging manila folders, myriads of new faces, and over-sized name tags (do I wear it or put in my pocket?  This feels like VBS.  Well, everyone else is wearing it.  Better put it on.)

As the sunny Colorado afternoon faded into evening, and we all gathered together for dinner in the mess hall, something quickly became apparent.  Not all Christians believe the same thing (Contrary to popular opinion, this is not an original thought. Others have come to the same conclusion).  As I neatly disected my pork loin, I watched as three of my conferencees (oh, that’s fun to write!) engaged in a vigorous discussion about Biblical authority. Within arm’s length of each other were sitting three people: one who believed the Bible is both inerrant and infallible, another who believed that it is infallible yet errant, and another who believed it is both errant and fallible.  These are issues which can majorly affect biblical interpretation. Are then these three unable of doing ministry with each other this summer? Well, WWCSLD?  (What Would C. S. Lewis Do?) 

In the preface to his influential book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis describers Christianity as a hall, from which many doors open into various rooms.  It is beneficial for Christians to search for the correct room, but they must realize that all the rooms, exist in the same house.  ACMNP offers us a chance to exit our rooms for a while, and spend some in the hall.  Lewis suggests “that at the center of each [denomination] there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.” I am excited to live in “the hall” for a summer.

Throughout the weekend, I got to listen to many different sermons, from both students and staff.  Of all those I heard, one sermon especially stood out to me. Dave Degler spoke on Psalm 21, encouraging us to never forget to lift up our eyes to the hills. As some new-found friends and I scrambled up a rocky hillside, we paused to rest and look back over the valley we had left behind. Dave’s message came to mind as God’s splendor shone around us.  Although preaching sermons will be a new and challenging experience, it will be that much easier because when I am at a loss for words, I can simply point at my surroundings. No point of mine, no matter how well-crafted or conceived, can compare to God’s grandeur displayed in God’s creation.  The conference fundamentally changed the way I looked at this summer. Before the weekend in Colorado, I found myself constantly doubting whether I would be an effective in my service this summer. To combat this I tried to look at my abilities and convince myself that they were adequate to fulfill my obligations this summer. However, at the conference the national staff kept on telling us that God had called everyone one of us to this ministry. This struck deep for me.  As I look around at my friends I see dozens and dozens of people who would do an excellent job this summer, I think to myself “why me?”.  However, God has specifically called me and my teammates Ashley and Cassidy to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, so the question at this point is not whether I am good enough, but rather how I can best serve God in the place he has put me.  It’s not about me and my abilities. It’s God and his grand story.  I get to be a character in God’s grand narrative. This is both extremely comforting and a terrifying.

In the words of Bilbo Baggins, “It's dangerous to enter the world. You step into the road, and if you're not careful, there is no way to know where you might end up.”

An excited hobbit,
Sam Baggenstos  

"This experience deepened my assurance of calling to the ministry and sharpened the skills I will need for congregational leadership."
– Kam, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond 2011

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