A Mountaintop Experience
Mark W Johanson - March 1, 2022
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. -Psalm 51:10
In February, several staff persons from Christ Lutheran, Charlotte, attended a church workers’ conference at Christ Lutheran, Phoenix. Best Practices in Ministry is the name of the conference, which celebrated its tenth year of operation this year. For me, this year marked the fourth time which I was afforded the opportunity to attend. Each time I have attended, I have grown spiritually, have been strengthened and affirmed in my vocation, and have come home with fresh ideas of how to better run ministry.
A bit about the conference: First of all, everything is free. Participants must pay to get there (airfare), and pay to stay there (hotel). Beyond these two financial obligations, Christ Lutheran, Phoenix pays for the rest: conference registration, food, etc. It’s no wonder that 2,500 people attend this 3-day conference; incidentally, February is the best time to visit Phoenix. The conference itself consists of plenary sessions, worship, way too many snacks, and six breakout sessions, each of which afford the attendee dozens and dozens of choices: everything from exegetics to evangelism, music to missions, visual art ministry to the Lutheran Comfort Dogs—yes, Lutheran Comfort Dogs actually do exist. Its breadth of topics and interests means that everyone from professional church workers to volunteers can all find something interesting to learn about, and every breakout session is led by a fellow conference attendee: we each get to learn from each other.
One particular highlight the morning of the conference: four of us elected to go on and successfully completed a double-diamond hike up Camelback Mountain, a large mountain that protrudes up over a thousand feet in the middle of the city limits with incredible views. Hiking—climbing, really—up Camelback Mountain is extremely difficult but rewarding. At the top, the overwhelming, panoramic beauty of God’s unique creation was a purposeful prelude to the conference: there’s something about being on a mountain peak that clears your head and makes you more aware of your surroundings.
As we find ourselves moving into the season of Lent, I am reminded of one of my favorite offertories: J.A. Freylinghausen’s Create in Me a Clean Heart. As a child, it always amazed me how the combination of this memorable text (Psalm 51:10-12) and short, through-composed melody gave the ushers exactly the right amount of time to walk forward with the offering plates, but I digress. The psalmist implores God to make him clean, “white as snow” with hyssop, a plant which had been used in ritualistic cleansing of lepers; its oil emits a strong fragrance.
Among many other things, Lent is a time of fasting and giving up. We often ask others or are asked ourselves, “what are you giving up for Lent?” But consider the psalmist: he asks God to create in him a clean heart not just so that the impurities are washed away and there is less overall, but so that his “right spirit” is renewed and the “joy of thy salvation” is restored. New things can enter in now that bad things have been removed. Similarly, when my head was cleared of the obligations and minutia of daily life while atop Camelback Mountain, I was able to focus on the conference ahead and felt much more capable of learning new ideas because I was in a different context and was able to be unbothered by the usual day-to-day.
Perhaps in your Lenten journey you might consider creating or finding a “mountaintop experience” that helps prepare you for your daily life as a Christian. Rather than simply giving something up for Lent, consider adding something as well: it could be a daily devotion, intercessory prayer, meditation, music, or just about anything else so long as it prepares your mind to receive what God is calling you to do that day. As we journey through these forty days together, let us find ways to prepare ourselves to receive the joys which God gives us through his mercy and grace.