I repeated my plans for Easter, which involved spending three weeks at an annual Christian event where the harvest is brought in during spring. He shook his head in disbelief. ‘What a total waste of time,’ he muttered. ‘Those big events are just mindless jamborees for Christians. Come the revolution, I’d cancel ’em all.’
But he couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time – years, cumulatively, over the last four decades – attending, contributing to and helping organise camps, retreats and conferences.
My experiences have led me to this conclusion: God is an event planner. Feasts and festivals have long been on his calendar. He not only invites his people to gather for lengthy bashes, like the feasts of Pentecost, Passover and Weeks, but he actually commands them to show up.
In biblical times, those nonoptional parties were disruptive, costing money and time, especially in a culture in which first-class travel was an athletic donkey. And the national celebrations were colourful and creative.
During the Feast of Tabernacles, the people of Israel didn’t just rehearse the story of the Exodus with words spoken, but actually relived the experience, camping out in temporary shelters for a week. And the feasts were far from solemn, gatherings of the frozen chosen. God made fun compulsory, hence this rather surprising command about an offering given in Deuteronomy 14:26: ‘Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.’
In my early years as a Christian, youth camps galvanised my fledgling faith. Admittedly, I was a bit overenthusiastic, and went forward in response to every sermon, even repenting of a few things that weren’t sinful. During 30 years of involvement with the aforementioned Spring Harvest, I learned some vital truths:
- There really were Christians in other denominational tribes apart from my own.
- My way of doing faith wasn’t the only way, or even the best way, which came as quite a surprise.
- Strength can come from worshipping in a large gathering of believers.
It’s possible to disagree agreeably and have intelligent conversations about issues that are usually contentious. But most of all, these events have helped me recall who God is and remember who I am. I’ve never lost my faith, but I do occasionally mislay it. And one of the complaints from God about his people, particularly repeated in the Old Testament, is simply this. They forgot. But the Old Testament festivals nudged everyone to remember. When we get together, sing our songs, pray our prayers, and open the Bible, we remember exactly why we have a pulse, and who it is that gave it to us. We recall our covenant with God again, and consider how we’re doing with our end of the bargain.
And these days there are plenty of options to choose from, as you’ll see from perusing this edition of Premier Christianity. If you can, head for a tent, chalet, retreat centre or conference. If you do, I pray your faith will be rebooted, your mind stretched and your heart opened to new friendships. Perhaps it will even be the tiniest taste of what forever will look like because, come the ultimate kingdom revolution, it’s where we’ll all be. Together.
Jeff Lucas is teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado. He is an international speaker, author and broadcaster Follow Jeff @jeffreylucas