I was so excited when I found out I was going to be a CCV (College Conference Volunteer) at this year’s Higher Things conference. As I anticipated the busy week months in advance, I thought about the activities, the adventures, the friendships that I would experience. What I think I was most thrilled about was this years theme, “Te Deum.” A hymn that begins te deum laudamus, ‘We praise you, O God.’ If you have never been to a Higher Things® conference, you should know that there is something truly breathtaking about a thousand young people singing the liturgy. I was excited to praise God with so many other fellow Lutherans.
Before the conference, I was excited for all of the things I was going to do. I would worship, I would learn, my faith would be strengthened by attending. I was thinking “te deum” was all about me praising God. Oh, how I was wrong! Pastor Bruce Keseman explained it perfectly in the plenary sessions. He pointed out that te means ‘you’, deum ‘God’, and laudamus ‘we praise.’ ‘Thee, o God, we praise.’ That changes everything! By correcting the word order we have changed the emphasis from us to God. We don’t go to the Divine Service to praise God but to receive Christ’s gifts and respond with thanks and praise by faith.
Although I knew this, I needed to be reminded of it. Through a week packed with catechism, I was reminded that my ugly, broken, narcissistic self has a new identity. No longer am I covered with the filth of sin, I am made holy. In my baptism, Christ took on my sins and gave me His righteousness. His innocent blood has covered me. God now looks at me and sees Christ. In Christ, I am perfect and holy.
Breakaways are another favorite at Higher Things. It’s common that groups will pick and chose which ones to attend, planning out not only where they will go but the fastest route in order for front-row seats. Similar to picking your fantasy football team, church groups carefully chose their break aways making sure they regrouped and recapped each detail after. I had the privilege of helping Reverend Preston Paul in his break away, Lord, Teach Me to Pray! He spoke about Genesis 2:7. God breathed into Adam and he breathed back. God speaks to us and we speak back! Everything we have and do has been given.
This conference was a blessing to attend. I needed to be reminded of the Law and the Gospel. I had assigned several expectations for this years conference, but I received even greater gifts. I received forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and the promise of life eternal. The amazing memories, life long friendships, and great adventures I made were certainly gifts from God. But, most importantly I received the gift, the gift of Christ for us.
The worst part? Leaving.
Worshipping in a beautiful church with a thousand people certainly feels like heaven. In the Divine Service we tasted heaven. God promised to come to us by His Word and Sacraments. Heaven is unity with Christ. We can rest assure that every Sunday we experience this at the altar. Saying goodbye to good, lutheran friends is hard, but I have already made plans to see them all soon! I know at the Lord’s table I will commune with them even if they are miles away. Unity with Christ is unity with his church.
Higher Things pointed me to higher things. It pointed me to Christ. I was excited for all the ways I could serve God, yet I was reminded that I can only serve Him because he first served me. He breathed into us, He loved us, and He died for us. Thee, o God, we praise!
Claire Houser was a College Conference Volunteer at Te Deum in Seward, NE.