Is this it? Reflections on AnCon17

ancon2017

Golden hour at Merroo is absolutely phenomenal.

From around 4 to 5-ish in the afternoon, the warmth and light of our one and only sun decides to give us a great big hug. At that hour, it starts to shine spectacularly through the trees, onto the hills and meadows, and you can sit, or lie, or stand there with such an astounding sense of contentment – safe, warm and comforted by its majestic golden cloak as you breathe in the crisp winter air. It ain’t called golden hour for nothin. And you know that every single photo you take will look so, damn good; glowing, full HD, profile picture material. Yet, at Merroo, it is more than just the sunshine at golden hour. Here, I am surrounded by my dear and precious brothers and sisters, with God’s word written on our hearts and minds. More than just light or warmth in the air is faith, hope and love, which brings into sight the trueness and beauty God’s holy people. And more than just the sound of birdsong and gentle breeze is conversation seasoned with salt, the life-given and life-giving words of the saved – laughing, building one another up, enjoying relationship with their creator and one another.

At golden hour at Merroo, I catch a glimpse of what is truly beautiful. For at this hour, the glory of both the sun and the Son shine brightly into our lives.

***

Wow… another ancon has come to pass – this time, my second one. This year, we spent five days looking at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, exploring all its glorious truths, details and implications in a world where death casts a long, dark shadow over all things under the sun. And honestly, it has just been so joyous and refreshing being immersed in God’s word and amongst His people. I really enjoyed growing as a community with my ACES faculty family – it was just so much fun spending time with familiar faces and old friends, as well as the many chirpy and overly-energetic first years! Of course, the main sessions were fantastic, with phenomenal teaching from Rowan and on-fire music, as always. One night, we had question time, and the room became so packed to the point of overflowing. There were crowds at the door, at the windows, all hoping to catch words of wisdom as Rowan faithfully answered questions from the bible. I thought that maybe this is what it felt like when the crowds flocked to hear Jesus teach, haha! [1] But once again, at Ancon17’, I was reminded of how glorious and good God’s truth is; how refreshing his people are; how beautiful his creation is.

Unlike last year, which was my first time at ancon, my expectations weren’t driven by hype at all. This time, I was there for the feast of truth and community. Emotions and child-like excitement may have been ever so slightly subdued this time around, but nonetheless, the joy remained very real. I won’t lie, though – amidst all the joy, there were struggles and burdens over these five days. I had a lot on my mind and heart, and for much of ancon, I was trying to make sense of things emotionally. See, it wasn’t all rosy and happy, but rather, much of my experience reflected the realities of living in a still-broken world. But that’s the thing about ancon – its foundation isn’t emotion, but truth. And truth speaks into emotions, and every other aspect of our lived experience. The resurrection of Jesus, and indeed the entirety of the gospel, speaks to the things I was struggling over these five days. So, how about I tell you about some of the truths I learnt or were reminded of, and then let me tell you how these things speak into some of the things I was feeling during ancon. (Not that you could do anything about it anyway… cos this is my blog hehe C: )

***

// Nuggets of truth //

1) Jesus is not a concept, Jesus is alive! He lives, and he is Lord! Our king is not a theoretical figure nor a concept, but a person who is alive right now. It is often easy to forget this. In his resurrection, Jesus has conquered the tsunami of death. The inescapable blanket of death which covers all of creation has been lifted. The sting of death, the pain, the loss of relationship – it is all over. We all know that death is the end, right? Wrong. Death is not the end, and this is proclaimed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ in history. He is alive. And he is Lord.

2) For the Christian, resurrection is both a present and a future reality. In being united with Christ, we too are resurrected – that is, one resurrection in two instalments. So… the resurrection has already happened. Now. What!? Yes. He has already brought us from death to life by giving us an inner, spiritual resurrection now. Yet, we long for our bodily resurrection with him on that day – when we will be raised immortal, imperishable, in glory and power, and into a new creation devoid of suffering and brokenness. See, resurrection isn’t a far-off thing in the future. The reality of resurrection, for both Christ and us, overflows into our lives in the present. We are to live the resurrection life now. Yet, we also know that the best is still to come.

3) The glorious future reality that we look forward to… actually breaks into our present lives now. As God’s people, we live as an ‘eschatological outpost’. What on earth does that mean? It means that we are an ‘outpost’ from the future. We are a little pocket of heaven… right now. We usually think that we go to ‘heaven’ when we die. But that is not what the bible teaches. Rather, heaven begins right now as we live out the resurrected life – how amazing is that?! We live now as the people God is resurrecting us to be. We do this in the way we live and the way we speak truth. And the things that will last into the future reality are faith, hope and love. May we abound in these things as we live out our lives – they are critical, foundational, essential. May we clothe ourselves in faith, hope and love as we look towards the sure coming of a faithful God, as revealed in his word, in history.

4) There are three broad purposes of our embodied existence right now. Firstly, to live in relationship with God. Secondly, to live in relationship with one another. Thirdly, to live in relationship with the created world. We live an essentially relational existence. Are we living in a way that allows this? Do we sleep, eat and exercise well that we may fulfil these purposes? Furthermore, in this broken world, our lives are a gospel canvas – our sufferings reflect the death of Jesus, whilst our perseverance by his strength shows the power of the resurrection.

5) In Christ, we have absolute freedom. In his death, we die to our broken, sinful natures. In his resurrection, we are raised to new life and power. We are unchained from the havoc of this world, though its effects may still linger. Yet, we are essentially free. So, let us put to death to old sinful self and put on the new, resurrected self. In this freedom, all burdens are lifted. We don’t need to do anything. There is rest. Yet, by his grace, he has given us much that we may glorify him. How will we use our freedom?

6) God is patient in salvation. May we continue to proclaim his lordship and gospel, that many might come and join in the goodness of the resurrected reality.

***

One thing which I struggled with at ancon this year was a restless sense of FOMO – that is, fear of missing out. I suppose it’s what can easily happen at such a big conference like ancon, with 650+ people. There is so much going on… and everything can be very overstimulating. There are also so many people – people you see often, people you don’t get to see often, and also people who you’ve never met before. Consequently, I found myself restless… there was so much that I could do but wasn’t doing, so many people I could be having conversations with but weren’t spending time with. I felt like I couldn’t settle down, that I was everywhere yet nowhere at times. Appropriately though, FOMO was something that we talked about in our last Friday review group. The resurrection helps us manage, and indeed is the solution, to our FOMO. In Christ, we have all things, and we await an eternal new creation with an infinite capacity for good things. In the case of people, well, there’ll be plenty of time to get to know them in the new creation. So, let us remember the resurrected reality; to all the good things that our Lord has called to now, and will reveal to us in the days to come. There is no FOMO in Christ.

Another thing which gripped my heart over ancon was the temporality and transience of everything… and how sad that is. It began with a reflection that ‘Oh… ancon is so great, but it’s going to be over soon.’ I realised that all good things would be over too. Soon, our carefree uni days would be over too. And then our lives. Nothing good lasts forever. Of course, I knew this truth. But over ancon, I felt this in a very emotional and visceral way; it gripped my guts, and I was deeply saddened by it. The shadow of death over all things, as we read in the opening chapters of Ecclesiastes in our first review group, became a real fear. And in this fear of losing things (and particularly, the fear that this bubble of joy called ancon would soon be over), I felt like I lost the capacity to fully enjoy what was in front of me. Again, the resurrection speaks to this. Temporality, perishability – these are the marks of our broken, sinful selves. Yet, Christ has crucified that self, and raised us to a glorious new reality, one that is imperishable and eternal. May this be our hope. And may it not come just in the future, but begin now, as we live out the resurrection life in faith, hope and love.

The last thing I want to talk about is just an overwhelming sense of tiredness and burden. I feel as if the holidays before ancon weren’t particularly restful, especially with the prep needed for ancon. Furthermore, just the tasks of serving at ancon – waking early for rehearsals, prepping for review groups, etc. – meant late nights and early mornings, and consequently, a fair deal of physical tiredness. I just really wanted rest. Further combined with the sense of FOMO, fed by the temporality of things, I grew restless. Now, ancon is a challenging place – we are convicted to live our lives for the Lord, to serve the LRLR (less-reached and less-resourced) and so forth. And I just felt so burdened… I didn’t want to do anything. But the truth of the gospel is this – we have absolute freedom in Christ. He doesn’t need us to do anything. He has done it all for us, and He continues to work in the world. This is the freedom and rest that comes from the gospel. So, we can take rest as we need it. Yet, by his grace and Spirit, he gives us what we need to live his way – nothing we do needs to be from our own strength. And this is why I could take a two-hour nap on the beautiful meadows of Merroo during golden hour – and that was really refreshing! I thank God for the rest He gives us.

These are some of the things I felt and experienced during ancon, amidst all the joy, laughter, learning and growth. And I don’t regret any of it… because I know that God works in all things for my good. [2] And I’m not sad that ancon is over. Because it’s not the end at all. It’s actually the beginning – the start of an exciting new semester of university, where we can go out and enjoy the work he has given us! Praise God for a fruitful and awesome ancon – may it have transformed us, and may its truths continue to shape our lives as we continue on from here, in all faith, hope and love.

***

Here’s a poem I wrote in faculty time.

The sun rises,
peeking out from behind that hill.
And when the morning comes,
we, too, rise with it.
The cold shiver no longer, for there is warmth.
The weak of sight stumble no longer, for there is light.
Yet, for that sickly piece of grass, that weakly rooted chaff,
the sun is a great fright,
blazing in glory, a consuming fire,
bringer of drought and plight.
Yet, it is the giver of life, light, sight and delight.

The Son rises,
peeking out from behind that empty tomb
And with the morning star,
we, too, will rise with him.
The broken cry no longer, for there is comfort.
The blind stumble no longer, there is the light.
Yet, for that sickly, false, unrepentant, weekly rooted chaff,
the son is a great fright,
blazing in glory, a consuming fire,
bringer of judgment and plight.
So, let us pay attention, let us be found in him;
Our giver of life, light, sight and delight.

***

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:9-11

ancon review group yay


[1] Say, something like the story in Luke 5:17-26
[2] Romans 8:28

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