Tonight I sit on a hotel room couch in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two friends are in the room nearby – one likewise on his laptop, the other one crashed in bed already. I can’t really blame him though, it has been a great day already – one full of lots of driving in the snow (yuck) and free-dinner-eating (yum).
We are in Grand Rapids to experience the Mars Hill pastor’s conference Isn’t She Beautiful?. If the service we were able to sit through tonight is any indication, then I’m sure it will be a wonderful couple of days.
I’ve mentioned Mars Hill many times before. I love the church. I love the pastor (Rob Bell), I love the theology they embrace (of the narrative taste) and the purposes they work toward (that of the global church and holistic redemption). I’ve enjoyed Bell ever since I first experienced a Nooma video (nooma is greek for spirit, by the way!) and even more once I read Velvet Elvis. It only makes sense that I would jump at the opportunity to come to their very first (as far as I know) pastor’s conference. The anticipation has risen since I first found out I would be able to go, and I’m really excited about hearing Bell speak in the morning.
Speaking of which, check out the itinerary for Monday and Tuesday. Go ahead, salivate. I know you want to.
Tonight Rob asked everyone that is going to the conference over the next two days to stand up. A good number did, I would say in the range of a few hundred people. If you take into account the two services earlier today from which he found the same response, there should be about 1200-1400 attending this conference. There are ministry leaders from nearby in Ohio, South Carolina, and as far as Los Angeles. There are also ministries represented from as far as Kenya and Sweden. This thing is rockin’.
After that welcome (and an enjoyable 30 minute worship experience – very cool) Rob gave a talk concerning Luke 17 and Matthew 6. Verses 7-10 from the Luke passage were especially interesting to Rob. He used these passages to discuss the idea of “entitlement” in regard to Christians. It’s actually really interesting, because the Luke passage contains a parable that I don’t think I’ve ever heard preached about before.
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?
“But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?
“He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'”
This is saying that when you do good things for the sake of God don’t expect something from God. Do it because you are a servant. He also threw out an interesting challenge/idea (like Bell often does): work toward making what you want to do the same as what you should do. Maybe this is the reward that God intends for us when he says we will be rewarded when we give. It makes sense: imagine living the way God wants you to live because you honestly want to live that way. This is a reward in itself, is it not?
C.S. Lewis even says that we are to do good works because the reward we receive is eternal life; more specifically, only the good works we do will live on eternally. Everything else will be burned off in the fire. (Credit to discussion afterward with Tim Lloyd after the evening, can’t give Bell that one.)
And that was it. I love his style. Bell gave a couple ideas, gave some great insight (and the man is charming) and the message was over. He did interview a member of the church as a way to illustrate how God’s story is told through all of us, but it turned out not really being that inspiring. It was a nice story, but it went on too long and it was tough for me to find the direct connection between what he was talking about and the interview. (I wonder if this isn’t only my modernized-practical-application-of-scripture mentality that has been unwillingly programmed into my preferences. I plan to fight it if this is the case.)
One more thing: Tomorrow at 2 o’clock there is a Q&A session with Rob Bell and Dan Golden. Dan is apparently another pastor of Mars Hill’s. Tim and Trent and I have decided to be sure to have a set of intelligent, thought out, and worthwhile questions to ask (before any idiots jump in to screw the hour up – like what happened at the Donald Miller night) that we really want to know the answers to. We didn’t have the chance to sit down and talk tonight, but we probably will tomorrow morning. I know this is short notice, but I was wondering what anyone else thinks. What should we ask Rob Bell during the Q&A? What would you ask? There is another session for questions on Tuesday, so I should be able to catch all responses and have the chance to ask them.