As I write this devotion a group from our church is being strengthened by a “mountain top experience.” This group of 10 youth, 4 adult leaders, and 5 volunteers have been part of the National Youth Gathering (NYG) of the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod). A total of 22,000 youth and adult leaders registered for this event. In addition there were thousands of volunteers and presenters giving of their time to help the participants grow in their relationship with their Lord, Jesus, and in their relationships with one another. Thankfully, in many ways these efforts worked.
Alexis Barfield, one of the volunteers from St. John, asked me one day how I liked this Gathering. I’ve attended 11 National Youth Gatherings since 1986. Each has a different theme. In many ways it is hard to compare one gathering to another. But I told Alexis, “Anytime 20-25,000 people gather together to grow in faith and serve their Lord, that is a wonderful experience and opportunity.” (In all honesty, some of the presentations of this Gathering were especially relevant and inspiring to me personally.) So, through the hours of lost sleep, through the stresses of schedule, and the frustrations of transportation, and through waiting in long security lines at the stadium, this gathering was an overwhelmingly joyful experience again for me, and I believe, for most of the people who attended. It was indeed a “mountain top experience.”
The term “mountain-top experience” comes from the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem, preparing for His suffering and His sacrificial death on the cross. Part of Jesus’ preparation was to go up on this mountain with His disciples, Peter, James, and John. On the mountain Jesus’ appearance changed; His face shone and His clothes became dazzling bright, confirming that Jesus was indeed the Almighty Lord. On the mountain Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, who discussed with Him His coming “departure” (Exodus), His death. (See Luke 9:31) On the mountain the Heavenly Father spoke words which strengthened Jesus and His disciples, re-affirming that Jesus is the Son of God and also re-affirming the love of the Father for His Son. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:6) This time on the mountain brought joy and strength to Jesus and His disciples.
But Jesus and His disciples did not stay on the mountain. Jesus had work to do. There was still a welcoming of the little children and a meal at Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus would still teach about the kingdom of God and raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus would still enter Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sunday, and spend time in the temple teaching God’s love and power, opposed by the religious leaders. Jesus would still institute the Lord’s Supper, pray in the Garden, and face betrayal by one of His own disciples. Jesus still faced a sham trial, beating and flogging, and the agony of His cross. All this was necessary for Jesus to fulfill the prophecies concerning God’s promised Messiah. All this was required to fulfill all righteousness and to pay for the sin of the whole world. And in addition to Jesus, His disciples would also walk the road of trial and opposition. After their time on the mountain, life was still full of suffering and challenge so that Jesus could accomplish the purpose of His life.
Therefore, this “transfiguration” on the mountain-top was just what Jesus needed as He faced this overwhelming, difficult task of suffering and dying for the sins of the world. This experience on the mountain-top was also just what Jesus’ disciples needed for their coming trials, and even for their failures.
Our group from St. John has been on the mountain-top. But, now is time to come down the mountain. There is work to do as a child of God. There are jobs and school, where people are not always affirmed in the love of our Creator, Father. There are personal challenges of health, finance, and relationships that we are called to face with faith in God’s love and grace in Jesus. There are people to love, people who do not always love us back. So, at the Gathering the participants and our youth have been strengthened for the suffering and the challenges of life.
The Gathering focus came from Psalm 46, especially verse 1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Following the theme taken from this verse, “Real-Present-God”, participants learned that in a world of realproblems, God and His love and power are real. They learned that in a world where people wonder where God is in the midst of sin suffering, through Jesus, God is always present in the midst of our trials and struggles. In a world where our problems are often bigger than we are, the Lord is God, HE is in charge. So, God tells His people in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God!” In the midst of these trials and the suffering of life, we have the “Real-Present-God!!”
Actually, Alaskans may understand time in the mountains better than people from other locations. The mountains are beautiful on a clear day, all year round. That mountain beauty can fill the soul and give strength to face the ugliness which life brings. Our youth and the participants have been on the mountain. Hopefully this time has given them strength to face the challenges life will bring them as children of God.
So, when do you spend time with God on the mountain, preparing for the challenges of life?