Monday, 12 September 2011

Engage 2011

As I am a person of tradition, this year, like past years, I went along to Engage 11. This year the speakers were John Piper and Rory Shiner which drew quite a crowed, and I think both weekends sold out. The theme was passion and eternity, which translates to seeking God's glory and been satisfied in that and a reminder about the future resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15. Over all the conference was just great.

John Piper was up first and his three talks were on how we should be seeking our most pleasure, which is really the same as seeking God's glory. Piper set out to argue this in each of his talks by saying that God is radically God centred and God exulting; God is most glorified when we are satisfied in him and that a life of love and risk for others is rooted in your own satisfaction. These three talks may seem counter intuitive at first but Piper argues that all people have some understanding of these concepts. I think Piper knew that he was the big name speaker and that he has a bit of a following, but he made every effort to show that this is not some great theory that he has come up with, but it is what the Bible says. He continually pointed us to texts to show that he was not making this up. His style was asking lots of questions and then trying to answer them from the Bible.

Piper challenged us to think why we follow God, is it really because we think God is actually for us that we like him? What happens if God is for Himself, do we continue to follow him, if we aren't God's end goal? Sometimes we actually don't mind been made small. People to go to the Grand Canyon or rock climb up a cliff  and when they get to the top they look out and feel insignificant and yet still think they had the time of their lives. Where did that come from?

If we are to continually seek God, how do we enjoy that? Wouldn't it feel like a duty and joy would be sucked from us as we are not seeking our own pleasure? Piper used many texts to show that we constantly seek joy and pleasure and that the very nature of faith, evil, conversion, Christian ministry and even self denial shows us that we flee from things that do not cause joy and go to things that reward us. If I was to say that nothing made me happier than to spend time with my wife as I am happy around her, why wouldn't I be labelled selfish? It sounds like I am only seeking my own pleasure as my wife make me happy, but something in us, especially in my wife, wouldn't think that. She would feel honoured and delighted.

So if we are to be self absorbed with ourselves and God, wouldn't that mean we pretty much ignore everyone else and be self serving to maximise my own pleasure? The Bible flat out shows that this is not the case. Many times people show generosity to others to show that God is worth more to them than money, or possessions, or their own time than, and that these acts were done joyfully and cheerfully. This doesn't mean everyone is all smiles and happy, in fact horrible things happened to the first Christians but they (especially those mentioned in Hebrews) risked everything to helping others and joyfully accepted being taken advantage of, because they had God, and that was enough.

Piper had some radical life altering concepts. He definitely took a very wide view of things and also showed that he took he Bible deadly serious - which sometimes the audience didn't get, they laughed when he said he had written a paper on how to drink orange drink to the glory of God but the Bible says we can drink in a way to give glory to God, so he wants to know how to do that and instruct others how. This may sound like he is a grumpy strict legalist, but he is the exact opposite. His life mantra is all about seeking joy and he coined the phrase Christian Hedonism.

Rory Shiner gave three talks on 1 Corinthians 15, and he was great. He used good analogies to make his points clear (he is the speaker at this years NTE, which would be worth checking out). Rory considered the doctrine of the resurrection like a box we may have in the shed - we know its there, but we don't really examine what is in it. Rory showed how Paul sets our reminding the church about things they have been taught about Jesus's resurrection (which historians love as it named eye witnesses and mentions five hundred people that could be asked at the time of writing if the events really did happen) and Paul goes on to show what the resurrection actually achieved, namely Jesus is the best and the first (fruit). If you were to observe an apple orchard for a few months up until just before Spring you may conclude that everything is dying, there is nothing good there. But when the first apple appears it shows that new life is on its way, and you can assume that more apples are going to follow. If you look at this world, it seems that death is in control, it gets everything. The world may seek after wealth, pleasure and experiences knowing that death is just off stage ready to take it all away, but Christians rebel against death. The secret of the world is that the first fruit has come and the world may look like death, but the harvest is going to burst forth.

Rory pointed out that our world has a love hate relationship with our bodies. Do we worship our bodies so much that we want to improve them, or do we improve them because we are unhappy with it? The latter part of 1 Corinthians 15 argues that we are going to have a real, physical body, like the same one we have, but also different. The relationships is like a seed to a plant. Everything the plant becomes is from the seed, but just looking at a seed and the result of a plant shows that they are different. Our image will be perfected and we will be buried (like a seed) only to rise again. It sucks to be Death, as he has been conquered and is only been used to plant new life.

Rory's last talk was just on the last verse in 1 Corinthians 15. What are we to do in light of the resurrection? We are faced with a choice: do we live now and die later, or do we die now to live later? We do not have to live like death is going to win over us. We do not need to step on people to get our way, this life is not our only shot. Our work is to be to the lord. That which is good (including our work) will find its way into the new creation. It is possible to live in a way for people to see our life and to ask about our hope. Our current life is not a vapour, we can use it to invest in the future creation.

There was some optional industry workshops offered on the Saturday, which I didn't attend, but heard good things about it (at the very least it helped people to meet others in the same line of work). The conference is aimed at trendy inner city dwellers, we all got a can of V at night and a trendy glass bottle of water (and a paper) in the morning. There were coffee stalls and late morning starts. The option to buy tickets for next was offered, even though the speakers were not announced (although the judgement of the organisers will probably be good). Since we are expecting a child in a few weeks, we didn't pre-purchase tickets as I am unsure if we will venture back to Engage with a little bub.

My past reviews of other Engage conferences:
Engage 10 - Steve Timms and Tim Blencowe
Engage 09 - Matt Chandler and William Taylor
Engage 08 - Mark Driscoll and Don Carson


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