by Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
A gray, snowy Pittsburgh welcomed 2,500 college students February 15 – 17 for the 36th annual Jubilee Conference sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach. The event was held in the David Lawrence Convention Center where with the theme “Transform Everything,” speakers advised students how to glorify God through whatever vocation they choose upon graduation. Using the narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration, conference speakers discussed what it means to “worship God with their whole lives” and participate in His redemptive plan for the world. They repeatedly encouraged students to avoid compartmentalizing “sacred” and “secular” career paths and remember almost any occupation can be done for God’s glory.
Workshops between the four primary sessions gave students an opportunity to hear from Christian professionals in fields ranging from politics, arts, science, academics, and numerous others. Workshop speakers included over 50 individuals such as former presidential aide Michael Gerson, author and principal of The Washington Institute, Steve Garber, and Director of Wheaton College’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics, Dr. Vincent Bacote.
Kicking off the conference Friday night, Dr. Anthony Bradley, a professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College told the standing room only crowd: “There is no such thing as sacred versus secular … all of the creation is connected to God.” He continued: “We are commissioned to be in deep connection with God, we are commissioned to be in deep connection with other people and we are commissioned to be in deep connection with the land.” We fear disconnection because we were created for connection, and God “seeks to connect with his creation and with those made in His image.” He wants us to “Join with him in the ongoing work of creation” because “God is still creating … things are still growing … you can’t stop creation. This is why we have lawn mowers,” Bradley explained.
“He is still committed to the original design” and each person has a purpose in that design, Bradley told the attentive audience. God is “the ruler and sustainer” of creation, and “has not walked away” from it. “The entire cosmos is a reflection of the character and nature of God. It’s not random. It points to something higher … it reveals a design and it reveals a Designer.” It is in our nature, Bradley said, pointing to a projected picture of a periodic table, to “Use our reason and creativity to take the things we see on this periodic table and make Nutella!” As we participate in the cultivation of God’s creation, “We discover the mysteries in creation and we develop them,” Bradley stated.
Although God intended us to be deeply connected to Him, each other, and the rest of creation, “something happened. We were made for something more, but something happened,” the professor explained. Our loneliness, sense of alienation, and misuse of the creation to make destructive things are a result of the Fall. He told students: “My prayer for you, my deepest passion for you … is that you will have a better idea of how it is that you are more intimately going to connect with God and how it is that God wants you to so wonderfully connect with other people.” Further, “Even though it might be messed up because of the Fall, God sent Jesus to fix it, and He is returning to finish it.” Bradley closed, asking: “Are you going to be a part of the fixing and finishing story?”
The next morning, Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, discussed the entrance of sin into God’s good creation. Sharing the history of her family’s brokenness resulting from slavery, racism, and Jim Crow laws, Harper explained these tragedies were ultimately a result of the fall. God declared His creation “very good,” or in Hebrew, “Mehode Tobe, forcefully good,” Harper said. The Hebraic context of “‘good’ is not necessarily referring to the thing itself,” but to “the relationship between things,” meaning the relationships between us and God, men and women, humanity and the rest of creation, were “forcefully good,” she said. But because Adam and Eve disobeyed and “reached for their own peace … shalom was ransacked.”
“When the first man and woman made that choice not to trust God … our relationship with God was broken, and with it, all of the relationships that God declared ‘very good’ … all went down,” Harper explained. Adam and Eve chose “peace for [themselves] at the expense of peace for all,” but the “only kind of peace humans can bring is broken,” she said. Restoration can only come through the repentance of sin. She defined sin as “anything that breaks the relationships that God declared ‘very good’ on the sixth day.” It is natural for us to long for complete restoration, and “God promises that one day He will restore shalom,” Harper stated. “The cross,” she continued, “is what gives us hope of restoration of all the relationships that God declared ‘very good’ just a chapter and a verse before the fall.” In closing, she urged students to follow Jesus and “claim the reversal of the fall, the power of the cross, and the power of the resurrection” to restore broken relationships.
“We never grow beyond the Gospel,” said Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, Saturday night. After a weekend talking about transforming the world, the pastor said he was there to give the “Anti-conference speaker speech.” Tchividjian told students: “You don’t have to transform the world to matter.” Although “We all want to prove our worth … justify our existence,” as Christians we don’t have to do anything to achieve that security and validation. “Jesus has already secured all of those things and given all of those things to us for free, no strings attached.” He went on: “Because Jesus came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves, that means that life doesn’t have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, to justify ourselves, to validate ourselves by what we do, or what we can become.”
In light of this truth, Tchividjian said it is natural to ask “Doesn’t this emphasis on God’s radical grace generate apathy … Can’t I just lay on the couch all day and do nothing?” The reality is quite the opposite, he answered, as “Gospel grace actually empowers risk taking effort, doesn’t undercut it … it empowers neighbor embracing love.” He continued: “The reason most of us make the investments we make, is that we’re hoping the return on that investment is value, worth, acceptance, significance, meaning … because we definitely need those things in order to feel like we matter, we measure the risks that we take.”
Through the security found exclusively in Christ, “Everything we need we already possess … now we can make bigger investments … because we don’t need a return,” Tchividjian explained. “Now we can say crazy, counterintuitive stuff like ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ … It’s the only thing that empowers sacrificial service to other people.”
Our pursuits are no longer “self-salvation projects,” he explained, which makes “the difference between approaching all of life from salvation and approaching all of life for salvation.” In closing, he said: “My prayer is that .. you would leave here inspired, not because you can get out there and do something great, but because God in Christ has done something great for you, and therefore you are now free to spend your life giving without needing anything in return.”
In the final session Sunday morning, Dr. Terry Thomas, a professor of Biblical studies at Geneva College told students: “There is nothing in the Creation God doesn’t care about.” He warned them against a dualistic view of the world, which perceives the spiritual realm as entirely separate from the material aspect of daily life, lest they become caught up in “American consumerist culture.” Such a view can result from an unbiblical view of the future, he explained, which is held often unknowingly by many Christians. Thomas highlighted the popular images of heaven as an ethereal place in the sky with winged, harp strumming beings floating on clouds, participating in an “eternal worship service.” More often, he said, Christians simply don’t think about eternity, and view it more as “fire insurance” to avoid everlasting torment.
This belief is unbiblical, Thomas explained, pointing out that scripture makes clear our “eternal home is this world restored.” He read from 2 Peter 3:10-12, describing the future destruction of the heavens and earth, and the subsequent restoration of “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” The adjective “new” in this context, is the Greek word “kainos,” which means new in quality, not time, Thomas expounded. God will purify this earth, and “all that will be left is that which is good.” There will be no more abortion, disease, sex trafficking, hunger, or any other atrocities, he exclaimed.
“God has that in mind for your future … [and] the promises of God are sure,” Thomas stated. “That future is about the restoration of this Creation,” he said, so we should “learn how to live our future now,” as “if you are faithful in the little things, God will give you the opportunity to be faithful in the big things.”
Closing the conference Sunday morning, Bob Goff, founder and president of Restore International and author of Love Does urged students to stop “stalking Jesus,” simply learning about Jesus, and start doing “the right stuff.” Don’t just talk about being the aroma of Christ, Goff said, “give warm bread to people.” By actively following Him, we are “shaped into the image of Christ,” he told students. Goff continued: “Everybody wants to make a difference in the world, but very few want to live differently.”
Following Goff’s talk, students dispersed, returning to their campuses with powerful reminders to remain rooted heart and mind in the Gospel, love others extravagantly, and glorifying God in all circumstances.