(Note: NYC stands for Nazarene Youth Conference – not New York City, No Yucky Cantaloupe or Nasty Yellow Cat)
NYC memories and experiences are a matter of competition among some Nazarenes pitting one district against another and comparing the stories of one teenager (or youth pastor) to their friends. On occasion these memories and stories fall victim to the temptation to stretch the truth a little just so my/your NYC seems cooler than your/my NYC. Ministerially speaking I guess a little NYC “tall telling” never hurt anybody too bad. It has just made the event bigger and bigger for the next generation of Nazarene youth and allowed NYC alumni to bask fondly in the memories of our days gone by.
Nothing makes you realize your age more than seeing your child standing in the spotlight you once stood. For the last 28 years I have reflected on and spoken fondly of my first youth leadership conference in Washington, DC. As a rising high school sophomore I boarded a plane with a few of my friends to hear great speakers (Tony Campolo), eat great food (Roy Rogers Burgers), hear great music (Michael W. Smith) and dirty my hands in ministry to others for the first time. Now Davis stands in my shoes in Louisville at NYC 2015 along with 7,000 of his closest Nazarene friends. Time does not stand still.
I am hopeful that the impact on him from this conference will be severe – in a good way. Ideally, he will be not only touched, but shaped by his experiences with others and most importantly his encounter with Jesus through discipleship and missional outreach. My preaching and teaching him about God as I know Him is limited by his hearing God speak in his heart and learning to know God in new and fresh ways. He must build on the teachings of his childhood and progress to a mature man of faith. That is my prayer.
NYC isn’t only for him though. It is a time to reflect on my faith and on my obedience to God. To hear God speak in a new way and with a fresh clarity on the calling in my life. If my son is the only one growing in his faith and moving on with God then there is a problem. One event in 1987 didn’t finish the work God had in mind for me. He has much, much more to do in my body, my mind, my spirit. I can’t go back to 1987 and I wasn’t invited to participate in the Louisville event, but God has great hopes for my heart this week too. God has never stopped doing the work on the inside of me so that the work He is doing through me might be blessing to others and a witness of the kingdom that has come into the world.
The truth is I have been very busy this week. Lots of meetings and phone calls to return. Lots of events with my other two kids not at NYC. Lots of good baseball on TV to watch in my spare time. Not enough time taken to pray for, fast over, and encourage Davis while he was away at what may be the most formative event of his life so far. Have I missed my moment for him?
Nope. God has had this all along. He was thinking of my son long before I paid the registration fee for him or put his bags on that bus. God placed his soul in the most capable hands of His Son and blew his blessings into his body. While I might miss moments or meaningful events, God doesn’t. He knows my son by name and he knows him in ways I don’t know or understand. He has plans and has given promises that nobody knows about yet, but we trust in Him to work all of the things (events/experiences/encounters/etc..) in Davis’ life in good and glorious ways.
My privilege is to point him towards God and let God do the shaping. That is my place and it fulfills the promise I made at his dedication and again in his baptism. That doesn’t mean that I am free from my spiritual duties as a father, but my role is changing. As he matures and moves on from my constant care over his life I must become much, much less of an influence on his spiritual life and Jesus must be the primary preacher/teacher in his heart. If Davis is my disciple, then I have failed as a father and as a pastor.
That is why I sent my son to NYC 2015. Not to gather great memories (he will) or eat great food (he stopped at Monells in Nash-Vegas) or get a picture with Colonel Sanders (“I’m back America!”). I sent Him to get away from his routine life and sit with God so that he might heart more clearly what God is saying to him right now and so that he may learn the beauty of hearing God speak throughout his life -no matter how old he gets. That is why I completely hope that his NYC is better than my NYC.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. (Ephesians 1:3-4)